"The Right Way The Best Way"
Harper's Weekly, June 3, 1865, page 338 (Editorial)
By the necessity of the case the question of suffrage in certain States of the Union is now to be determined by the National Government. If Governor Pierpont, as is constantly reported, is about to issue a proclamation inviting the loyal citizens of Virginia to elect delegates to a Convention, he will do it with the consent and by the authority of the President.  The qualifications of the voters for delegates will not be settled by the State of Virginia, and thousands who are empowered to vote by her old Constitution will doubtless be excluded by the tests which the United States authority will impose.

By the Constitution of the United States the national authority is bound to guarantee a republican form of government to every State.  How can it do that in the case of Virginia, where there is now no Government except that of the military power of the United States? Clearly in one way only: and that is by enfranchising all the adult male population who will take an oath of unconditional fidelity to the Union; of solemn, absolute, express renunciation of the dogma of State sovereignty; and of entire acquiescence in the laws of Congress, in the acts of the Executive, and in total emancipation of the slaves.

If a condition of education be required, it is unfortunate; but it will exclude the most trusty citizens of the State, white and black.

If color shall disqualify, a disability not authorized by the Constitution and in direct conflict with the fundamental principle of the Government is introduced.

If a religious test be demanded the Constitution is equally violated.

The republican form of government which Congress is constitutionally bound to secure allows no arbitrary disqualification upon the grounds of religion, of race, or of color. It contemplates a government "of the people by the people for the people," and by its very terms is inexorably hostile to an oligarchy in every form.

It is of no importance whether the old Constitution of the State did or did not prescribe such tests. If every State which adopted the Constitution of the United States must be held to have had a republican form, it is enough that in all those States, except one, the basis of suffrage was such as not to exclude any considerable body of freemen, whatever their race, intelligence, or color.

But the question is now freshly encountered.  Is that, by any torture of terms, to be justly called a republican form of government which arbitrarily disfranchises an immense body of the adult freemen of a State because of their complexion or race? Can they be more righteously disfranchised because of their hue than because of their height or age or profession? They have the same natural rights as men, they have the same interests in the commonwealth as all others, and their rights and interests are no safer in the hands of those others than those of the others would be in theirs. It would be thought a very hard fate if the residence of the white freemen in Virginia or North Carolina should be left to the decision of the black. It is equally hard, unjust, and unrepublican that the residence or status of the black freemen in those States should be intrusted to the white.

The difficulties and dangers of authorizing a general suffrage in those States are not so evident as those of refusing it. The refusal alienates that great mass of the population lately enslaved, which by emancipation is now in every sense the equal of the poor white population of the same States. It prolongs indefinitely the agitation arising from an unjust discrimination.  It gives a national sanction to the prejudice against color. It disheartens the colored freemen whom it does not embitter, and rebukes those who claim for all men the equal rights to which, by the acknowledged principle of our system, all men are entitled. The refusal to enfranchise them is a deliberate repudiation of the fundamental American doctrine that Governments justly exist by the consent of the governed. It emboldens the sneering skepticism which asks whether it can be so very wrong industrially to enslave those whom it is right politically to degrade.

To leave the question to be settled by the State Legislatures elected by white citizens alone is to base the political freedom of colored citizens upon the consent of a class, and not upon the same right from which that class derives its own franchise. And to leave it to be so settled when the United States Government has the right and the power and the opportunity of deciding it, is to shirk one of the most sacred responsibilities which the war has thrown upon it. The right way, the republican way, the American way, the humane way, is the safe way and the best way.  Let all loyal freemen vote in reorganizing the States.
Harper's Weekly, June 3, 1865, page 338 (Editorial)

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