At this early period in the struggle between Slavery and Freedom, Mr. Sumner
, who was always thorough and practical in the application of principle, to every act, and on every occasion, appeared before the Supreme Court of Massachusetts
, in the case of Sarah C. Roberts vs
. The City of Boston
The object of this suit was, to have some decision of a Court of Final Appeal, which should determine the civil rights of the Colored people of the State
This was the most powerful and exhaustive argument in behalf of the equality of every human being before the Law
of Equity, which is the law of nature, and the law of God, that had then been pronounced, and it has never been equalled.
It settled the question in Massachusetts
as it has since been virtually established throughout the country.
Even Mr. Sumner
never was obliged to elucidate the subject again.
It constituted the first great charter ever distinctly drawn up in favor of the equal right of the Colored people of the United States
to education and the corresponding privileges that grow out of it, with all other citizens.
The argument in Equity stands upon the eternal basis of justice.
No reply has ever been attempted against it as an argument in Law; and wherever its principles come in conflict with municipal statutes, those statutes are arbitrary, and on appeal to Courts of Final Jurisdiction, will, in every free country, be overthrown.
It will be seen, in Mr. Sumner
's subsequent career, how fully he conformed his life and official acts to the high standard he had raised.
He carried out every one of those principles to their logical conclusion, never deviating, even in the smallest thing, from the courtesies which they implied.
He lived a large and generous life; he moved in the best society, at home and abroad: his companions were the most illustrious men living.
But in no instance—so genuinely democratic, and so purely Christian was his soul,—did he ever give the slightest countenance to that principle of unjust Caste which, in this argument, he so mercilessly condemned.
In this respect, he has probably had no equal among his countrymen.
His example more perfectly illustrated the principles he advocated than that of any other man; and he certainly had a higher and broader field for their exemplification than almost any other public character of his times was favored with.
Considering the time when this argument was made—the heavy structure of Southern slavery still unshaken
—the dark cloud of prejudice against the African race hanging still undispelled over the whole North
——the race itself, without exception, ostracised from the pale of Northern charity,—from the precincts of Northern justice, —from the sacred amenities of Northern homes,—from the priceless advantages of Northern education,—exiled from every scene of social amusement and culture,— shut out from theatres, from lecture-rooms, from universities, from all schools of higher education—excluded from the learned professions—condemned everywhere to the most menial and degrading offices,—nowhere allowed to enter the charmed circle of a common brotherhood of a universal humanity—banished absolutely from all the sunlight of civilization, and all the sympathies of earth-and spurned from every covert of refuge except the bosom of Almighty God!
Such was the condition of this doomed race—such was the defender they found in Charles Sumner
, and such the argument he delivered before the Supreme Court of Massachusetts
It reads now,—except to the young, who were fortunate enough to be born in better days of the Republic
, where they have escaped much of the contamination of that spirit of Caste that so deeply clouded our
young days,—like a thrice-told tale.
It seems but a tame enunciation of axioms no longer disputed.
Ah! thank God, there is some truth in this.
But let the young go back, if it be to gain but a faint impression of the hard road the colored people have had to tread in reaching this better day; and they may half conceive how many a wounded spirit, like Charles Sumner
's, bled in secret sorrow, with hearts grown sore in waiting for the emancipation of an enslaved race.
Then will they cease to wonder that to their salvation the great Senator
so unreservedly dedicated his life.
Then will they learn why his name will be mentioned with veneration by their latest posterity—why he is to them, even now, the best beloved name in all history.
He opened his argument by asking the Court
: ‘Can any discrimination on account of color, or race, be made, under the Constitution
and laws of Massachusetts
, among the children entitled to the benefits of our Public Schools?
This is the question which the Court
is now to hear, to consider, and to decide.’
There had been a long controversy on the subject, and a great deal of angry debate had, for five years, been witnessed in the School Committee.
The controversy had been heated and virulent.
It was now to be determined for the first time before a judicial tribunal, in an action by a colored child, only five years old, who, by her next friend, sued the City of Boston
for damages, on account of a refusal to receive her into one of the Public Schools
It would be difficult to imagine any case which could appeal more strongly to your best judgment, whether you regard the parties or the subject.
On the one side is the city of Boston, strong in its wealth, in its influence, in its character; on the other side is a little child, of a degraded color, of humble parents, still within the period of natural infancy, but strong from her very weakness, and from the irrepressible sympathies of good men, which, by a divine compensation, come to succor the weak.
This little child asks at your hands her personal rights. So doing, she calls upon you to decide a question which concerns the personal rights of other colored children; which concerns the Constitution and Laws of the Commonwealth; which concerns that peculiar institution of New England, the Common Schools; which concerns the fundamental principles of human rights; which concerns the Christian character of this community.
Such parties, and such interests, so grand and various, may justly challenge your most earnest attention.
The great principle involved in this case, I shall first exhibit in the Constitution of Massachusetts, next in the legislation, and then in the judicial decisions.
I shall then consider the special circumstances of this case, and show the violation of the Constitution and Laws, by the School Committee of Boston—answering, before I close, some of the grounds on which their conduct has been vindicated.
I. I begin with the principle, that, according to the spirit of American institutions, and especially of the Constitution of Massachusetts, all men, without distinction of color or race, are equal before the law.
I might, perhaps, leave this proposition without one word of comment.
The Equality of men will not be directly denied on this occasion.
But that we may better appreciate its character and its limitations, let me develop with some care the origin and growth of this sentiment, until it finally ripened into a formula of civil and political right.
The sentiment of Equality among men was early cherished by generous souls.
It showed itself in the dreams of ancient philosophy.
It was declared by Seneca; when writing to a friend a letter of consolation on death, he said, Prina enim pars Equitatis est Equalitas. (Epist.
30.) The first part of Equity is Equality.
But it was enunciated with persuasive force in the truths of the Christian Religion.
Here we learn that God is no respecter of persons; that he is the father of all; and that we are all his children, and brethren to each other.
When the Saviour taught the Lord's prayer, he taught the sublime doctrine of the Brotherhood of Mankind, infolding the Equality of men.
Slowly did this sentiment enter the State. The whole constitution of government in modern times was inconsistent with it. An hereditary monarchy, an order of nobility, and the complex ranks of superiors and inferiors established by the feudal system, all declared, not the Equality, but the inequality of men, and they all conspired to perpetuate this inequality.
Every infant of royal blood, every noble, every vassal, was a present example, that, whatever might be the truths of religion, or the sentiments of the heart, men living under these institutions were not born equal.
The boldest political reformers of early times did not venture to proclaim this truth; nor did they truly perceive it. Cromwell beheaded his king, but caused the supreme power to be secured in hereditary succession to his eldest son. It was left to John Milton, in poetic vision, to be entranced—
With fair Equality, fraternal state.
Sidney, who perished a martyr to liberal sentiments, drew his inspiration
from the classic, and not from the Christian fountains.
The examples of Greece and Rome fed his soul.
The Revolution of 1688, partly by force, and partly by the popular voice, brought a foreigner to the crown of Great Britain, and according to the boast of loyal Englishmen, the establishment of Freedom throughout the land.
But the Bill of Rights did not declare, nor did the genius of Somers or Maynard conceive the political axiom, that all men are born equal.
It may find acceptance in our day from individuals in England; but it is disowned by English institutions.
It is to France that we must pass for the earliest development of this idea, for its amplest illustration, and for its most complete, accurate, and logical expression.
In the middle of the last century appeared the renowned Encyclopedie, edited by D'Alembert and Diderot.
This remarkable production, where science, religion, and government were all discussed with a revolutionary freedom, contains an article on Equality, which was published in 1755.
Here we find the boldest expression that had then been given to this sentiment.
‘Natural Equality,’ says the Encyclopedia, ‘is that which exists between all men by the constitution of their nature only.
This Equality is the principle and the foundation of liberty.
Natural or moral equality is then founded upon the constitution of human nature, common to all men, who are born, grow, subsist, and die in the same manner.
Since human nature finds itself the same in all men, it is clear, that, according to nature's law, each ought to esteem and treat the others as beings who are naturally equal to himself; that is to say, who are men as well as himself.’
When we consider the period at which this article was written, we shall be astonished less by its incompleteness and vagueness, than by its bravery and generosity.
The dissolute despotism of Louis XV.
Selfish nobles and fawning courtiers filled the royal antechambers.
The councils of Government were controlled by royal mistresses.
Only a few years before, in 1751, the King had founded, in defiance of the principles of Equality,—but in entire harmony with the conduct of the School Committee in Boston—a military school, for nobles only, carrying into education the distinction of Caste.
At such a period the Encyclopedia did well in uttering such important and effective truth.
The sentiment of Equality was here fully declared.
Nor should we be disappointed, that, at this early day, even the boldest philosophers did not adequately perceive, or if they perceived, did not dare to utter, our axiom of liberty, that all men are born equal, in civil and political rights.
He pays a touching tribute to Jean Jacques Rousseau
—that solitary person, poor, of humble extraction, born in Switzerland
, of irregular education and life, enjoying a temporary home in France
, a man of audacious genius, who set at naught the received opinions of mankind!
His earliest appearance before the public was by an eccentric Essay on the Origin of Inequality among Men, in which he sustained the irrational paradox, that men are happier in a state of nature than under the laws of civilization.
This was followed by a later work, the Social Contract. In both of these productions, the sentiment of Equality was invoked against many of the abuses of society, and language was employed going far beyond Equality in Civil and Political Rights.
The conspicuous position, since awarded to the speculations of Rousseau, and the influence they have exerted in diffusing this sentiment, make it proper to refer to them on this occasion; but the absence of precision in his propositions renders him an uncertain guide.
He next seizes hold of the French Revolution
, which he finely calls ‘that great movement for enfranchisement;’ it was the expression of this same sentiment.
There it received a distinct and authoritative annunciation; for, in the successive Constitutions adopted amidst the throes of those bloody struggles, the Equality of men was always proclaimed.
In this sweeping wave went away Nobles, and Kings
, and all distinctions of birth—they could not withstand so mighty and triumphant a truth.
The Constitution of 1791 declares in its first article as follows: ‘Men are born and continue free and equal in their rights.’
In its sixth article it says: ‘The law is the expression of the general will.
It ought to be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes.
All citizens being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all dignities, places, and public employments according to their capacity, and without other distinction than their virtues and talents.’
At the close of the Declaration of Rights there is this further explanation of it: ‘The National Assembly,
wishing to establish the French Constitution on principles which it has just acknowledged and declared, abolishes irrevocably the institutions which bounded liberty and equality of rights. There is no longer, neither nobility, nor peerage, nor hereditary distinctions, nor distinction of order, nor feudal rule, nor patrimonial justices, nor any titles, denominations and prerogatives, which were thence derived, nor any order of chivalry, nor any corporations or decorations, for which proofs of nobility are required, or which supposed distinctions of birth, nor any other superiority than that of public functionaries in discharge of their functions. * * * There is no longer, for any part of the nation, nor for any individual, any privilege or exception to the law, common to all Frenchmen.’
（Moniteur, 1791, No. 259.)
The Declaration of Rights of Condorcet—Feb. 15, 1793—contained fresh inculcations of the Equality of men, Article 8th saying: ‘The Law ought to be equal for all
,’—‘Instruction is the need of all, and society owes it equally to all its members.’
The natural and imprescriptible rights of men are ‘Equality, liberty, safety, property.’
And in the next article it shows what is meant by Equality.
It says, ‘All men are equal by nature, and before the law.’
（Moniteur, 1793, No. 178.) Here we first meet this form of definition.
At a later day, after France had passed through an unprecedented series of political vicissitudes, in some of which the rights of Equality had been trampled under foot, when, at the revolution of 1830, Louis Philippe was called to a ‘throne surrounded by republican institutions,’ the charter then promulgated repeated this phrase.
In its first article it declared, ‘that Frenchmen are equal before the law, whatever may may be their titles or ranks.’
While recognizing this peculiar enunciation of the Equality of men, as more specific and satisfactory than the naked statement that all men are borne equal, it is impossible not to be reminded that this form of speech finds its prototype in the ancient Greek language.
In the history of Herodotus, we are told that ‘the government of the many has the most beautiful name of ι>σονομία’—or Equality before the law. (Book 3, § 80.) Thus this remarkable language, by its comprehensiveness and flexibility, in an age when Equality before the law was practically unknown, nevertheless supplied a single word, which is not to be
found in modern tongues, to express an idea which has been practically recognized only in modern times.
Such a word in our own language, as a substitute for Equality, might have superseded some of the criticism to which this political doctrine has been exposed.
After this review, the way is now prepared to consider the nature of Equality, as secured by the Constitution of Massachusetts.
The Declaration of Independence, which was put forth after the French Encyclopedia, and the political writings of Rousseau, places among self-evident truths this proposition,—‘That all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’
The Constitution of Massachusetts repeats the same idea in a different form.
In the first article it says: ‘All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties.’
The sixth section further explains the doctrine of Equality.
It says: ‘No man, nor corporation, or association of men, have any other title to obtain advantages, or particular and exclusive privileges, distinct from those of the community, than what arises front the consideration of services rendered to the public; and this title being in nature neither hereditary, nor transmissible to children, or descendants, or relations by blood, the idea of a man being born a magistrate, lawgiver, or judge, is absurd and unnatural.’
The language here employed, in its natural signification, condemns every form of inequality, in civil and political institutions.
Though these declarations preceded, in point of time, the ampler declarations of France, they may, if necessary, be construed in the light of the latter.
It is evident that they aim to declare substantially the same things.
They are declarations of Rights, and the language employed, though general in its character, is obviously to be restrained to those matters which are within the design and sphere of a declaration of Rights. It is a childish sophism to adduce in argument against them the physical or mental inequalities by which men are characterized.
It is a palpable truth, that men are not born equal in physical strength, or in mental capacities; in beauty of form or health of body.
Diversity or inequality, in these respects, is the law of creation.
From this difference springs divine harmony.
But this inequality is in no particular inconsistent with a complete civil and political equality.
The equality declared by our fathers in 1776, and made the fundamental law of Massachusetts in 1780, was Equality before the law.
Its object was to efface all political or civil distinctions, and to abolish all institutions founded upon birth. ‘All men are created equal,’ says the Declaration of Independence. ‘All men are born free and equal,’ says the Massachusetts Bill of Rights.
These are not vain words.
Within the sphere of their influence no person can be created, no person can be born, with civil or political privileges, not enjoyed equally by all his fellow-citizens; nor can any institution be established recognizing any distinctions of birth.
Here is the Great Charter of every human being drawing his vital breath upon this soil, whatever may be his condition, and whoever may be his parents.
He may be poor, weak, humble, black—he may be of Caucasian, of Jewish, of Indian, or of Ethiopian race—he may be of French, of German, of English, of Irish extraction—but before the Constitution of Massachusetts all these distinctions disappear.
He is not poor, or weak, or humble, or black—nor Caucasian, nor Jew, nor Indian, nor Ethiopian—nor French, nor German, nor English, nor Irish; he is a man,—the equal of all his fellow-men.
He is one of the children of the State, which, like an impartial parent, regards all its offspring with an equal care.
To some it may justly allot higher duties, according to their higher capacities, but it welcomes all to its equal, hospitable board.
The State, imitating the divine justice, is no respecter of persons.
I now pass to the second stage of this argument, and ask attention to a further proposition.
The Legislature of Massachusetts, in entire harmony with the Constitution, has made no discrimination of color or race, in the establishment of Public Schools.
If such discrimination were made by the Laws, they would be unconstitutional and void.
But the legislature of Massachusetts has been too just and generous, too mindful of the Bill of Rights, to establish any such privilege of birth. The language of the statutes is general, and applies equally to all children, of whatever color or race.
The provisions of the law regulating this subject are entitled, Of the Public Schools. (Revised Statutes, ch. 23.)
The first section provides, that in ‘Every town containing fifty families, or householders, there shall be kept in each year, at the charge of the town, by a teacher or teachers of competent ability and good morals, one school for the instruction of children in Orthography, Reading, Writing, English Grammar, Geography, Arithmetic and Good Behavior, for the term of six months, or two or more such schools for terms of time that shall together be equivalent to six months.’
The 2d, 3d, and 4th sections provide for the number of such schools to be
kept in other towns having more than five hundred inhabitants.
The language here employed does not recognize any discrimination of color or race.
Thus in every town, whether there be one or more schools, they are all to be ‘schools for the instruction of children’ generally—not children of any particular class, or color, or race, but children,— meaning the children of the town where the schools are.
The 5th and 6th sections provide for the establishment, in certain cases, of a school, in which additional studies are to be pursued, ‘which shall be kept for the benefit of all the inhabitants of the town.’
Here the language not only does not recognize any discrimination among the children, but seems directly to exclude it.
In conformity with these sections is the peculiar phraseology of the memorable law of the Colonies in 1647, founding Public Schools, ‘to the end that learning be not buried in the graves of our forefathers.’
This law obliged towns having fifty families ‘forthwith to appoint one’ within their limits ‘to teach all such children as shall resort to him, to write and read.’
(Ancient Charters, 186.)
The Courts of Massachusetts have never recognized any discrimination, founded on color or race, in the administration of the Public Schools; but have recognized the equal rights of all the inhabitants.
There are a few decisions only of our Court bearing on this subject, but they all breathe one spirit.
The sentiment of Equality animates them.
In the case of Commonwealth v. Davis (6 Mass.
R. 146), while declaring the equal rights of all the inhabitants, both in the grammar and district schools, the Court said: ‘The schools required by the statute are to be maintained for the benefit of the whole town, as it is the wise policy of the law to give all the inhabitants equal privileges for the education of their children in the Public Schools. Nor is it in the power of the majority to deprive the minority of this privilege. * * * * Every inhabitant of the town has a right to participate in the benefits of both descriptions of schools, and it is not competent for a town to establish a grammar school for the benefit of one part of the town to the exclusion of the other, although the money raised for the support of schools may be in other respects fairly apportioned.’
In the case of Withington v. Eveleth (7 Pick.
106), the Court said, they ‘were all satisfied that the power given to towns to determine and define the limits of school districts, can be executed only by a geographical division of the town for that purpose.’
A limitation of the district, which was merely personal, was held invalid.
This same principle
was again recognized in Perry v. Doe (12 Pick.
R. 213), where the Court say: ‘Towns, in executing the power to form school districts, are bound so to do it as to include every inhabitant in some of the districts.
They cannot lawfully omit any, and thus deprive them of the benefits of our invaluable system of free schools.’
The exclusion of colored children from the Public Schools, open to white children, is a source of practical inconvenience to them and their parents, to which white persons are not exposed, and is, therefore, a violation of Equality.
The black and the white are not equal before the law.
In this rule—without the exception—is seen a part of the beauty of our Public School system.
It is the boast of England, that justice, through the multitude of courts, is brought to every man's door.
It may also be the boast of our Public School system, that education in Boston, through the multitude of schools, is brought to every white man's door.
But it is not brought to every black man's door.
He is obliged to go for it—to travel for it—often a great distance.
Surely this is not Equality before the law.
showed that the inconvenience arising from the exclusion of colored children seriously affected the comfort and condition of the African race in Boston
; that many colored parents, anxious to be near the only two schools open to their children, were compelled to gather in those neighborhoods, as people in Eastern countries come from a distance to rest near a fountain or a well.
This is the conduct of a colored parent.
He is well deserving of honor for his generous efforts for his children.
As they grow in knowledge, they will rise and call him blessed; but at the same time they will brand as accursed the arbitrary discrimination of color, in the Public Schools of Boston, which rendered it necessary for their father, out of his small means, to make such sacrifices for their education.
Such a grievance, even independent of any stigma from color, calls for redress.
It is an inequality which the Constitution and Laws of Massachusetts repudiate.
But it is not on the ground of inconvenience only that it is odious.
And this brings me to the next point.
He next takes up Caste, for which we must allow liberal space, since it makes so large a portion of the foundation of all human injustice.
V. The separation of children in the Public Schools of Boston, on account of color or race, is in the nature of Caste, and, on this account, is a violation of Equality.
The facts in this case show expressly that the child was excluded from the school nearest to her dwelling, the number in the school at the time warranting her admission, ‘on the sole ground of color.’
The first Majority Report presented to the School Committee, to which reference is made in the statement of facts, gives, with more fulness, the grounds of this discrimination, saying, ‘It is one of races, not of color, merely.
The distinction is one which the Almighty has seen fit to establish, and it is founded deep in the physical, mental, and moral natures of the two races.
No legislation, no social customs, can efface this distinction.’
Words more apt than these to describe the heathenish relation of Caste, could not be chosen.
This will be apparent from the very definition of Caste.
This term is borrowed from the Portuguese word casta, which signifies family, breed, race.
It has become generally used to designate any hereditary distinction, particularly of race.
In India it is most often applied; and it is there that we must go in order to understand its full force.
A recent English writer on the subject says, that it is ‘not only a distinction by birth, but is founded on the doctrine of an essentially distinct origin of the different races, which are thus unalterably separated.’
（Roberts on Caste, p. 134.) This is the very ground of the Boston School Committee.
But this word is not now applied for the first time to the distinction between the white and black races.
Alexander von Humboldt, in speaking of the negroes in Mexico, has characterized them as a Caste, and a recent political and juridical writer of France has used the same term to denote, not only the distinctions in India, but those of our own country.
(Charles Comte, Traite de Legislation, tom. 4, pp. 129, 445.) In the course of his remarks, he refers to the exclusion of colored children from the Public Schools, as among ‘the humiliating and brutal distinctions’ by which their caste is characterized.
It is, then, on authority and reason, that we apply this term to the hereditary distinction on account of color, which is established in the Public Schools of Boston.
It is when we see this discrimination in this light, that we learn to appreciate its true character.
The Brahmins and the Sudras, in India, from generation to generation, were kept apart.
If a Sudra presumed to sit upon a Brahmin's carpet, he was punished with banishment.
With a similar inhumanity among us, the black child, who goes to sit on the same benches at school with the white child, is banished, not from the country, but from the school.
In both cases it is the triumph of Caste.
But the offence is greater with us, because, unlike the Hindoos, we acknowledge that men are born equal.
The Advocate cites from high authorities, many illustrations of the cruelty and barbarous character of caste, as it appears in India
Bishop Heber, of Calcutta, characterizes Caste as follows:
It is a system which tends, more than any else the devil has yet invented, to destroy the feelings of general benevolence, and to make nine-tenths of mankind the hopeless slaves of the remainder.
Bishop Wilson, also of Calcutta, the successor of Heber, says:—
The Gospel recognizes no such distinctions as those of castes, imposed by a heathen usage, bearing in some respects a supposed religious obligation, condemning those in the lower ranks to perpetual abasement, placing an immovable barrier against all general advance and improvement in society, cutting asunder the bonds of human fellowship on the one hand, and preventing those of Christian love on the other.
Such distinctions, I say, the Gospel does not recognize.
On the contrary, it teaches us that God ‘hath made of one blood all the nations of men.’
This is the testimony of a native of Hindostan, converted to Christianity:
Caste is the stronghold of that principle of pride which makes a man think of himself more highly than he ought to think.
Caste infuses itself into, and forms the very essence of pride itself.
Another native speaks as follows:
I therefore regard Caste as opposed to the main scope, principles, and doctrines of Christianity; for, either Caste must be admitted to be true and of divine authority, or Christianity must be so admitted.
If you admit Caste to be true, the whole fabric of Christianity must come down; for the nature of Caste and its associations destroy the first principles of Christianity.
Caste makes distinction among creatures where God has made none.
Disguise it as you will, it is this hateful institution.
But the words Caste and Equality are contradictory.
They mutually exclude each other.
Where Caste is, there cannot be Equality.
Where Equality is, there cannot be Caste.
It is unquestionably true that there is a distinction between the Ethiopian and Caucasian races.
But this distinction can furnish no ground for any discrimination before the law.
We abjure nobility of all kinds; but here is a nobility of the skin.
We abjure all hereditary distinctions; but here is an hereditary distinction, founded not on the merit of the ancestor, but on his color.
We abjure all privileges derived from birth; but here is a privilege which depends solely on the accident, whether an ancestor is black or white.
We abjure all inequality before the law; but here is an inequality which touches not an individual, but a race.
We revolt at the relation of Caste; but here is a Caste which is established under a Constitution declaring that all men are born equal.
The Committee of Boston, charged with the superintendence of the Public Schools, have no power under the Constitution and Laws of Massachusetts, to make any discrimination on account of color or race, among children in the Public Schools.
It has been already seen that this power is inconsistent with the Constitution and Laws of Massachusetts, and with the adjudications of the Supreme Court.
The stream cannot rise higher than the fountainhead, and if there be nothing in these elevated sources from which this power can draw its sanction, it must be considered a nullity.
He shows still further that the times had changed—that Boston
people were not living any longer in an age when they could practise these indignities with impunity.
It is clear that the sentiments of the colored people have now changed.
The present case, and the deep interest which they manifest in it, thronging the court to hang on this discussion, attest the change.
With increasing knowledge, they have learned to know their rights, and to feel the degradation to which they have been doomed.
Their present effort is the token of a manly character which this Court will cherish and respect.
The spirit of Paul now revives in them, even as when he said, ‘I am a Roman citizen.’
But it is said that these separate schools are for the mutual benefit of children of both colors, and of the Public Schools.
In similar spirit, Slavery is sometimes said to be for the mutual benefit of master and slave, and of the country where it exists.
In the one case there is a
mistake as great as in the other.
This is clear.
Nothing unjust, nothing ungenerous, can be for the benefit of any person, or any thing.
Short-sighted mortals may, from some seeming selfish superiority, or from a gratified vanity of class, hope to draw a permanent good; but even-handed justice rebukes these efforts, and with certain power redresses the wrong.
The whites themselves are injured by the separation.
Who can doubt this?
With the law as their monitor, they are taught to regard a portion of the human family, children of God, created in his image, co-equals in his love, as a separate and degraded class; they are taught practically to deny that grand revelation of Christianity —the Brotherhood of Mankind.
Their hearts, while yet tender with childhood, are necessarily hardened by this conduct, and their subsequent lives, perhaps, bear enduring testimony to this legalized uncharitableness.
Nursed in the sentiment of Caste, receiving it with the earliest food of knowledge, they are unable to eradicate it from their natures, and then weakly and impiously charge upon their Heavenly Father the prejudice which they have derived from an unchristian school, and which they continue to embody and perpetuate in their institutions.
Their characters are debased, and they become less fit for the magnanimous duties of a good citizen.
The Helots of Sparta were obliged to intoxicate themselves, that they might teach to the children of their masters the deformity of intemperance.
In thus sacrificing one class to the other, both were degraded—the imperious Spartan and the abased Helot.
But it is with a similar double-edged injustice that the School Committee of Boston have acted, in sacrificing the colored children to the prejudice or fancied advantage of the white.
Who can say that this does not injure the blacks?
Theirs, in its best estate, is an unhappy lot. Shut out by a still lingering prejudice from many social advantages,—a despised class,—they feel this proscription from the Public Schools as a peculiar brand.
Beyond this, it deprives them of those healthful animating influences, which would come from a participation in the studies of their white brethren.
It adds to their discouragements.
It widens their separation from the rest of the community, and postpones that great day of reconciliation which is sure to come.
The whole system of Public Schools suffers also.
It is a narrow perception of their high aim, which teaches that they are merely to furnish to all the scholars an equal amount in knowledge, and that, therefore, provided all be taught, it is of little consequence where, and
in what company, it be done.
The law contemplates not only that they shall all be taught, but that they shall be taught all together. They are not only to receive equal quantities of knowledge, but all are to receive it in the same way. All are to approach together the same common fountain; nor can there be any exclusive source for any individual or any class.
The school is the little world in which the child is trained for the larger world of life.
It must, therefore, cherish and develop the virtues and the sympathies employed in the larger world.
And since, according to our institutions, all classes meet, without distinction of color, in the performance of civil duties, so should they all meet, without distinction of color, in the school—beginning there those relations of Equality which our Constitution and Laws promise to all.
As the State receives strength from the unity and solidarity of its citizens, without distinction of class, so the school receives new strength from the unity and solidarity of all classes beneath its roof.
In this way the poor, the humble, the neglected, share not only the companionship of their more favored brethren, but enjoy also the protection of their presence, in drawing towards the school a more watchful superintendence.
A degraded or neglected class, if left to themselves, will become more degraded or neglected.
To him that hath shall be given; and the world, true to these words, turns from the poor and outcast to the rich and fortunate.
It is the aim of our system of Public Schools, by the blending of all classes, to draw upon the whole school the attention which is too apt to be given only to the favored few, and thus secure to the poor their portion of the fruitful sunshine.
But the colored children, placed apart in separate schools, are deprived of this blessing.
He shows with great force how the welfare of classes in all communities, as well as that of individuals, is promoted by mutual acquaintance.
nations, separated only by a narrow channel, across which they can look upon each other's coasts, remained in a state of almost constant hostilities for hundreds of years; but when the new age came on, with steamers and increased travel, prejudice,—the child of ignorance,—began to give way; and as they mingled more and more together, they at last became friends.
May it please your Honors: Such are some of the things which it has occurred to me to say in this important cause.
I have occupied much of your time, but I have not yet exhausted the topics.
Still, which way soever we turn, we are brought back to one single proposition—the Equality of men before the law. This stands as the mighty guardian of the rights of the colored children in this case.
It is the constant, ever-present, tutelary genius of this Commonwealth, frowning upon every privilege of birth, upon every distinction of race, upon every institution of Caste.
You cannot slight it, or avoid it. You cannot restrain it. God grant that you may welcome it. Do this, and your words will be a ‘charter and freehold of rejoicing’ to a race which, by much suffering, has earned a title to much regard.
Your judgment will become a sacred landmark, not in jurisprudence only, but in the history of Freedom, giving precious encouragement to all the weary and heavy-laden wayfarers in this great cause.
Massachusetts will then, through you, have a fresh title to regard, and be once more, as in times past, an example to the whole land.
You have already banished Slavery from this Commonwealth.
I call upon you now to obliterate the last of its footprints, and to banish the last of the hateful spirits in its train, that can be reached by this Court.
The law, interfering to prohibit marriages between blacks and whites, has been abolished by the Legislature.
The railroads, which, imitating the Boston schools, placed colored people apart by themselves, have been compelled, under the influence of an awakened public sentiment, to abandon this regulation, and to allow them to mingle with other travellers.
Only recently I have read that his Excellency, the present Governor of Massachusetts, took his seat in a train by the side of a negro.
It is in the Caste schools of Boston that the prejudice of color has sought its final legal refuge.
It is for you to drive it forth.
You do well when you rebuke and correct individual offences; but it is a higher office far to rebuke and correct a vicious institution.
Each individual is limited in his influence; but an institution has the influence of numbers organized by law. The charity of one man may counteract or remedy the uncharitableness of another; but no individual can counteract or remedy the uncharitableness of an established institution.
Against it private benevolence is powerless.
It is a monster which must be hunted down by the public, and by the constituted authorities.
And such is the institution of Caste in the Public Schools of Boston, which now awaits its just condemnation from a just Court.
The civilization of the age joins in this appeal.
It is well known that this
prejudice of color is peculiar to our country.
You have not forgotten that two youths of African blood only recently gained the highest honors in the college at Paris, and dined on the same day with the King of France, the descendant of St. Louis, at the Palace of the Tuileries.
And let me add, if I may refer to my own experience, that in Paris, I have sat for weeks, at the School of Law, on the same benches with colored persons, listening, like myself, to the learned lectures of Degerando and of Rossi—the last is the eminent minister who has unhappily fallen beneath the dagger of a Roman assassin; nor do I remember observing in the throng of sensitive young men by whom they were surrounded, any feeling towards them except of companionship and respect.
In Italy, at the Convent of Pallazuola, on the shores of the Alban Lake, and on the site of the ancient Alba Longa, I have seen, for several days, a native of Abyssinia, only recently conducted from his torrid home, and ignorant of the language that was spoken about him, yet mingling with the Franciscan friars, whose guest and scholar he was, in delightful and affectionate familiarity.
In these examples may be discerned the Christian spirit.
And, finally, this spirit I invoke.
Where this prevails, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor barbarian, bond nor free; but all are alike.
From this we derive new and solemn assurances of the Equality of mankind, as an ordinance of God.
The bodies of men may be unequal in beauty or strength; these mortal cloaks of flesh may differ, as do these worldly garments; these intellectual faculties may vary, as do the opportunities of action and the advantages of position; but amidst all unessential differences there is an essential agreement and equality.
Dives and Lazarus were equal in the sight of God.
They must be equal in the sight of all just institutions.
But this is not all. The vaunted superiority of the white race imposes upon it corresponding duties.
The faculties with which they are endowed, and the advantages which they possess, are to be exercised for the good of all. If the colored people are ignorant, degraded, and unhappy, then should they be the especial objects of your care.
From the abundance of your possessions you must seek to remedy their lot. And this Court, which is as a parent to all the unfortunate children of the Commonwealth, will show itself most truly parental, when it reaches down, and, with the strong arm of the law, elevates, encourages, and protects its colored fellow-citizens.