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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

After Emancipation—Suffrage

By Thaddeus Stevens (1792–1868)

[From a Speech on Reconstruction, U. S. H. of R., 3 January, 1867.]

WE have broken the material shackles of four million slaves. We have unchained them from the stake so as to allow them locomotion, provided they do not walk in paths trod by white men. We have allowed them the unwonted privilege of attending church, if they can do so without offending the sight of their former masters. We have even given them that highest and most agreeable evidence of liberty as defined by the “great plebeian,” the “right to work.” But in what have we enlarged their liberty of thought? In what have we taught them the science and granted them the privilege of self-government? We have imposed upon them the privileges of fighting our battles, of dying in defence of freedom, and of bearing their equal portion of the taxes; but where have we given them the privilege of even participating in the formation of the laws for the government of their native land? By what civil weapon have we enabled them to defend themselves against oppression and injustice? Call you this liberty? Call you this a free republic, where four millions are subjects but not citizens? Then Persia, with her kings and satraps, was free! Then Turkey is free! Their subjects had liberty of motion and labor, but the laws were made without and against their will; but I must declare that, in my judgment, they were as really free governments as ours is to-day. Think not I would slander my native land: I would reform it. Twenty years ago I denounced it as a despotism. Then, twenty million white men enchained four million black men. I pronounce it no nearer to a true republic now, when twenty-five millions of a privileged class exclude five millions from all participation in the rights of the government. The freedom of a government does not depend upon the quality of its laws, but upon the power that has the right to create them. During the dictatorship of Pericles, his laws were just, but Greece was not free. During the last century Russia has been blest with most remarkable emperors, who have generally decreed wise and just laws, but Russia is not free. No government can be free that does not allow all its citizens to participate in the formation and execution of her laws. These are degrees of tyranny; but every other government is a despotism. It has always been observed that the larger the number of the rulers the more cruel the treatment of the subject races. It were better for the black man if he were governed by one king than by twenty million…. But it will be said, “this is negro equality.” What is negro equality, about which so much is said by knaves, and some of which is believed by men who are not fools? It means, as understood by honest Republicans, just this and no more; every man, no matter what his race or color, every earthly being who has an immortal soul, has an equal right to justice, honesty and fair play with every other man; and the law should secure him those rights. The same law which condemns or acquits an African should condemn or acquit a white man. The same law which gives a verdict in a white man’s favor should give a verdict in a black man’s favor, on the same state of facts. Such is the law of God, and such ought to be the law of man.