Appendix L. Speeches For Study And Practise. Part 5
It is deplorable, sir, that in both sections a larger percentage of the vote is not regularly cast, but more inexplicable that this should be so in New England than in the South. What invites the negro to the ballot-box? He knows that of all men it has promised him most and yielded him least. His first appeal to suffrage was the promise of "forty acres and a mule; his second, the threat that Democratic success meant his reenslave-ment. Both have been proved false in his experience. He looked for a home, and he got the Freedman's Bank. He fought under promise of the loaf, and in victory was denied the crumbs. Discouraged and deceived, he has realized at last that his best friends are his neighbors with whom his lot is cast, and whose prosperity is bound up in his - and that he has gained nothing in politics to compensate the loss of their confidence and sympathy, that is at last his best and enduring hope. And so, without leaders or organization - and lacking the resolute heroism of my party friends in Vermont that make their hopeless march over the hills a high and inspiring pilgrimage - he shrewdly measures the occasional agitator, balances his little account with politics, touches up his mule, and jogs down the furrow, letting the mad world wag as it will!
The negro voter can never control in the South, and it would be well if partisans at the North would understand this. I have seen the white people of a State set about by black hosts until their fate seemed sealed. But, sir, some brave men, banding them together, would rise as Elisha rose in beleaguered Samaria, and, touching their eyes with faith, bid them look abroad to see the very air filled with the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof." If there is any human force that cannot be withstood, it is the power of the banded intelligence and responsibility of a free community. Against it, numbers and corruption cannot prevail. It cannot be forbidden in the law, or divorced in force. It is the inalienable right of every free community - the just and righteous safeguard against an ignorant or corrupt suffrage. It is on this, sir, that we rely in the South. Not the cowardly menace of mask or shotgun, but the peaceful majesty of intelligence and responsibility, massed and unified for the protection of its homes and the preservation of its liberty. That, sir, is our reliance and our hope, and against it all the powers of earth shall not prevail. It is just as certain that Virginia would come back to the unchallenged control of her white race - that before the moral and material power of her people once more unified, opposition would crumble until its last desperate leader was left alone, vainly striving to rally his disordered hosts - as that night should fade in the Kindling glory of the sun. You may pass force bills, but they will not avail. You may surrender your own liberties to federal election law; you may submit, in fear of a necessity that does not exist, that the very form of this government may be changed; you may invite federal interference with the New England town meeting, that has been for a hundred years the guarantee of local government in America; this old State - which holds in its charter the boast that it "is a free and independent commonwealth" - may deliver its election machinery into the hands of the government it helped to create - but never, sir, will a single State of this Union, North or South, be delivered again to the control of an ignorant and inferior race. We wrested our state governments from negro supremacy when the Federal drumbeat rolled closer to the ballot-box, and Federal bayonets hedged it deeper about than will ever again be permitted in this free government. But, sir, though the cannon of this Republic thundered in every voting district in the South, we still should find in the mercy of God the means and the courage to prevent its reestablishment.
I regret, sir, that my section, hindered with this problem, stands in seeming estrangement to the North. If, sir, any man will point out to me a path down which the white people of the South, divided, may walk in peace and honor, I will take that path, though I take it alone - for at its end, and nowhere else, fear, is to be found the full prosperity of my section and the full restoration of this Union. But, sir, if the negro had not been enfranchised the South would have been divided and the Republic united. His enfranchisement - against which I enter no protest - holds the South united and compact. What solution, then, can we offer for the problem? Time alone can disclose it to us. We simply report progress, and ask your patience. If the problem be solved at all - and I firmly believe it will, though nowhere else has it been - it will be solved by the people most deeply bound in interest, most deeply pledged in honor to its solution. I had rather see my people render back this question rightly solved than to see them gather all the spoils over which faction has contended since Cataline conspired and Caesar fought. Meantime we treat the negro fairly, measuring to him justice in the fulness the strong should give to the weak, and leading him in the steadfast ways of citizenship, that he may no longer be the prey of the unscrupulous and the sport of the thoughtless. We open to him every pursuit in which he can prosper, and seek to broaden his training and capacity. We seek to hold his confidence and friendship - and to pin him to the soil with ownership, that he may catch in the fire of his own hearthstone that sense of responsibility the shiftless can never know. And we gather him into that alliance of intelligence and responsibility that, though it now runs close to racial lines, welcomes the responsible and intelligent of any race. By this course, confirmed in our judgment, and justified in the progress already made, we hope to progress slowly but surely to the end.
The love we feel for that race, you cannot measure nor comprehend. As I attest it here, the spirit of my old black mammy, from her home up there, looks down to bless, and through the tumult of this night steals the sweet music of her croonings as thirty years ago she held me in her black arms and led me smiling to sleep. This scene vanishes as I speak, and I catch a vision of an old Southern home with its lofty pillars and its white pigeons fluttering down through the golden air. I see women with strained and anxious faces, and children alert yet helpless. I see night come down with its dangers and its apprehensions, and in a big homely room I feel on my tired head the touch of loving hands - now worn and wrinkled, but fairer to me yet than the hands of mortal woman, and stronger yet to lead me than the hands of mortal man - as they lay a mother's blessing there, while at her knees - the truest altar 1 yet have found - I thank God that she is safe in her sanctuary, because her slaves, sentinel in the silent cabin, or guard at her chamber door, put a black man's loyalty between her and danger.