Harper's Weekly 10/07/1865


The South Carolina Convention was opened
by a Message from Provisional Governor Perry,
which has been printed in full in most of the
daily papers, and has undoubtedly been widely
read and pondered. Does any thoughtful man,
who earnestly desires the pacification of the
country, believe that the spirit of that Message
promises well for such a result? We are all
exhorted to conciliation. Is Governor Perry's
Message conciliatory? He asserts, indeed,
some prodigious truths. He summons the
Convention to recognize that slavery in South
Carolina is dead. The shade of Calhoun must
have sneered with indignant incredulity. More-
over, Governor Perry says that, until an or-
ganic law of South Carolina prohibits slavery
forever, South Carolina can not hope to resume
her place in the Union. We can imagine the
expressive silence of the Convention as these
words were read.

But from such a positive statement of the
actual situation at the outset what might nat-
urally have been expected of the rest of the
Message? Might we not have looked for a
sincere and conciliatory recommendation that
the Convention should accept the situation?
Was it too much to expect that the Governor
would suggest that, as more than half the pop-
ulation of the State had been hitherto slaves
and were now freemen, every means should be
provided for their speedy education and eleva-
tion to all the equal rights of men and duties
of citizens? Would a wise man and patriotic
American insinuate, as Governor Perry does,
that more than half the population of the State
should be permanently degraded into a pariah
class? And how could any American Gov-
ernor venture, under the circumstances, upon
a bold assertion of the falsehood that “this is
a white man's Government, and intended for
white men only?” A very slight acquaintance
with the history of eighty and ninety years ago
would have corrected this error of Governor
Perry's, who, in this statement, merely re-
peats the enormous and false assertion of
Judge Taney in the Dred Scott decision.

Does Governor Perry suppose that the men
who signed the Declaration of Independence
did not know the meaning of the words they
used? “All men” no more means all white
men than all red men. It means exactly what
it says. The contemporary words of the lead-
ers of the Revolution show what they thought
upon this subject. And as to the Constitution
Judge Taney himself can not help admitting
that every person who, upon its adoption was a
citizen of any State, became a citizen of the
United States; and at that time colored per-
sons were equal citizens in New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and
North Carolina. “If so,” says Judge Curtis,
controverting the Chief Justice, “it is not true
in point of fact that the Constitution was made
exclusively by the white race…..and as free
colored persons were then citizens of at least
five States…..they were among those for
whom and whose posterity the Constitution
was ordained and established.”

Indeed, so far as regards the vital question
now at issue in the country—the status of the
colored part of the population—Governor Per-
Message merely echoes the spirit of the
Dred Scott opinion of Judge Taney. Can it
be expected that a Convention, acting in that
spirit, can offer to the Congress of the United
States “such a republican form of government
as will entitle South Carolina to the guarantee
of the United States therefor?” Is there any
reasonable hope that such a Convention will
change the organic law to secure or suggest
legislation to maintain that equality which is
the spring of all republican government?

The welfare of the disaffected States is, in
the first instance, in the hands of the members
of these Conventions. Every loyal man in the
land sincerely wishes that their action may be
such as to reveal a disposition which may be
safely trusted by the country. Those who have
doubted whether such would be the result, have
yet patiently awaited the meeting and action of
the Conventions, and will patiently wait to the
end. But the earnest mind of the country
must be even now asking the question whether
the action of these bodies thus far is such as to
prove that the States may be safely left to the
domination of the class which alone appears in
the Conventions.

The responsibility is theirs, not ours. Wade
, a delegate to this South Carolina
Convention, has openly advised the late rebels
to remain in the State, and do what they can to
save it; that is, to perpetuate discord in the
Union. The allies of the rebels in this part of
the country exhort them to fight out “what
remains of the contest.” So be it. The choice
is theirs. But if they choose to fight it out,
do they suppose we shall not? If they could
not beat us in the field, do they suppose we
shall suffer them to outwit us in council? Do
they suppose that we do not mean to finish our
work? Do they suppose that the people of the
United States, having won peace by a costly
war, do not mean to secure peace?

If they will help us, if they will work with
us, if they will honestly accept the situation,
we shall gladly secure it together. If they will
not, we shall still secure it. We ask for no in-
justice to any man, white or black. We ask
only for equal justice for all men, since it is
demonstrated that the Union can stand on no
other foundation.

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