Monday, February 28, 2011

Early Civil Rights II

While Black Americans gained rights by law, Democrats despised them and used any means to keep them from voting, sometimes devious, sometimes violent.

For example, in Georgia they ruled that while Blacks might be elected, they could not serve. They went so far as to expel 31 elected Blacks from the Legislature.

Democrats also rushed the floor of the Louisiana Legislature to seize power from the elected Black Republicans. Federal troops had to restore peace and return the African Americans to their positions.

Congress, therefore, required Confederate States to rewrite their state constitutions to include equal civil rights. This brought on massive resistance, riots and attacks.

Much opposition to Black Americans occurred state by state. In 1866, however, Democrats formed a group to break down the Republican government - the Ku Klux Klan. Thirteen volumes documenting the Congressional investigations in 1872 conclude that the KKK played a prominent role in the Democratic Party through murders and public floggings.

In 1866 Congress passed the Civil Rights law that made it illegal to deprive a person of civil rights because of race, color or previous servitude. Democratic President Andrew Johnson vetoed this bill, but Republicans overrode it.

Two more civil rights laws were passed that year - one protecting marriage, one prohibiting slave-hunting.

Three years after the Civil War, Democrats were still refusing to recognize any rights of citizenship for Black Americans. Knowing that these laws could be easily rescinded by a future Congress, the Legislature moved to guarantee these rights with the 14th Amendment. Once again, no Democrats voted for the Amendment.

African Americans progressed so well through the Republican Party that Democrats fought back. They ignored the 13th and 14th Amendments by manipulating laws and election results.

In 1868 General Wade Hampton, a former Confederate General, became the Democratic Governor of South Carolina. As a member of the Resolutions Committee, he inserted a clause into the Democratic platform declaring that federal civil rights laws were “unconstitutional, revolutionary and void.” He even demanded abolition of Freedmen’s Bureau.

Knowing that the civil rights laws could be overturned, Congress passed the 15th Amendment; it guaranteed that voting rights could not be denied on the basis of race or color – the final of the 3 post War civil rights Amendments. It passed along straight partisan lines with no Democratic votes.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Early Civil Rights

During and after the Civil War, Republicans worked to guarantee civil rights for Black Americans. Even though “states rights” was the cry from the South, it really meant the right to slavery, Black Codes, segregation and institutional discrimination.

With the elections of 1860 and 1864, Republicans gained a firm control of the federal government.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. This more clearly defined the objective of the war and represented a major step toward total abolition of slavery. In addition, it turned foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union because both England and France had eliminated slavery in the previous decades on moral grounds.

In 1864 Republicans passed several civil rights laws. They equalized pay for soldiers in the military, be they white or black. They repealed the Fugitive Slave Law with almost unanimous opposition of northern Democrats.

The new Freedmen’s Bureau distributed medicine, food, and clothing and supervised captured Confederate lands.

The Republican party platform of 1864 called for a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery completely. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, they knew that if they lost legislative power, slavery could once again be instituted.

Congress passed this 13th Amendment even before the war was over. All 118 Republicans voted for it. Of the 82 Democrats, only 19 voted to end slavery. That was merely 23%.

To commemorate the passing of this amendment, Congress (only Republican members, Democrats would not join) asked Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, a Black preacher, to deliver a sermon in the House.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 defined Blacks as U.S. citizens and promised them “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property,”

Johnson, our Democrat president, vetoed this bill, but Congress passed it over the veto.

Knowing that southerners would bring a court challenge to this bill, Republicans moved to make it permanent with the 14th Amendment.

Former Confederate Rebels were not allowed to vote unless they swore an oath of allegiance to the U.S. and an oath to respect civil rights of Black Americans; many refused and, therefore, the Republican party was the main party for several years.

The 1866 midterm election sent 2/3 Republican majority to each house and within a year, Blacks were registering to vote. Southern Republican legislatures protected voting rights, prohibited segregation, established public education, opened public transportation, State police, schools, etc. to Black Americans.

Many Blacks were elected to state legislatures. Of the first 632 Black State Representatives, all of them were Republicans. The Blacks and the Republicans were dedicated to equal, civil rights for all.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Slaves, Freed Slaves and Free African Americans Contribute

People of color contributed richly to our society and culture. I want to list a few, but cannot do justice to the multitude. I can only give a sampling.

The Colored American Institute was founded in 1851 to celebrate Black American accomplishments. I suspect many still get missed.

One of the first awards went to David Bustill Browser, a self-taught artist. He began his career as a landscape, sign emblem and banner painter. He also painted portraits – including several of Lincoln and one of abolitionist John Brown.

Thomas Jennings was the first African American to receive a patent in 1821. He developed a dry cleaning process.

Henry Blair received a patent in 1834 for his seed planter. He could not read or write and had to sign his patent form with an “X.”

Inspired by John B. Russwurm and Samuel E. Cornish, David Walker published the pamphlet Walker’s Appeal, and David Ruggles published Mirror of Liberty, the first Black magazine.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black female journalist, founded her own newspaper in Canada, the Provincial Freeman. After the Civil War, she returned to the United States and became the first black female lawyer.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry was the first all-Black unit organized in the North. Two sons of Frederick Douglass, Lewis H. and Charles R., were among the first recruits.

After being wounded in the head, Sgt. William H. Carney held up the American flag throughout the unsuccessful battle against Fort Wagner. He was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor – nearly 4 decades later.

Nurse Susie King Taylor also served in the Civil War. Not only did she treat wounded soldiers, she proceeded to teach them to read and write.

Isabella Baumfree listened to Frederick Douglass claim blood would have to be shed for their freedom. She questioned him by asking, “Frederick, is God dead?” This changed the demeanor of the whole crowd. She later changed her name to Sojourner Truth because she traveled around and preached against greed, alcohol and other sins. She spoke on civil rights for African Americans and women and pointed people to God.

These are just a few, but we can see the richness in what they contributed.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Freedom's Journal

Founders of Freedom’s Journal chose Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russwurm as editors of the first completely black newspaper.

Cornish was born to free black parents in 1795. He taught in a school for blacks, became a minister and organized the first black Presbyterian church in NYC.

Russwurm was born free in Jamaica in 1799. He went to school in Canada and graduated from college in Maine. He was one of the first black men to graduate from an American college.

The Black owners of this paper hired Black editors. They featured issues and articles of interest to the black community.

These intelligent editors stated their purpose in the first issue. “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long others have spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations in things that concern us dearly.”

Not only did Cornish and Russwurm want to plead their cause, they wanted to promote learning and civil rights. They spoke against slavery and lynching. They advocated political rights and voting rights. They taught about life and news in foreign lands. They even included biographies of successful blacks and advice about life.

The paper’s motto, “Righteousness Exalteth a Nation,” was front and center. At its peak the paper had 44 sales reps and cost $3. Approximately 800 copies were distributed over 11 states each week. All 103 of the issues have been digitized and can be found at

As time progressed, however, disagreement arose between Russwurm and Cornish. Russwurm used the paper to advocate for colonization - the practice of transporting slaves back to Africa to form colonies. Samuel Cornish disagreed with this and resigned his editorship. He did, however, stay on as an agent of the paper.

John Russwurm continued to encourage colonization, but this was unpopular with his readership. He soon lost readers and the last issue was printed on March 28, 1929.

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Due to the unrest in Wisconsin, I went back in my blogs and dug this one out to bring to the forefront again. We do have the right to assemble and have our voices heard. However, what we are seeing in Madison is vicious, and the signs are personally directed. The crime of our Governor is presenting a bill that the unions oppose. Please think about it.


With all the talk of creating democracies in the MidEast, I started wondering if that is exactly what we want.

Republic or Democracy?

Did our Founding Fathers give us a democracy? In 1789 a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government they had created. His reply was, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Sadly, Americans are misinformed about our system of government.

James Madison in Federalist Paper No.10 warned that in democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party.” John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself...,” and Fisher Ames, a Congressman during Washington’s presidency, said democracy was “the intermediate stages towards … tyranny.”

A democracy is direct government ruled by the majority, making it possible to deprive individuals of rights. This majority can vote itself handouts by electing the candidate who promises the most benefits from the public treasury. Taxes increase and incentive to produce decreases. The once productive workers drop out of the labor force and join the non-productive. Eventually, democracy fails.

The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence. We pledge allegiance “to our Republic,” not “to our democracy.” The Founders established a government which was not a democracy and guaranteed to every state a “republican form” of state government.

These men structured a Constitutional Republic with checks and balances between the different branches. They designed it to protect the individual’s God-given inalienable rights. It was a government of laws, not men.

The 1928 War Department’s Training Manual No. 2000-25 described democracy as a government of the masses, resulting in mobocracy with a communistic attitude toward property. The same manual depicted a republic as resulting in liberty, reason, justice, contentment and progress. This manual was destroyed in the thirties, and by 1952 in The Soldiers Guide, we find, “Meaning of democracy. Because the United States is a democracy, the majority of the people decide how our government will be organized and run – .”

The governor of New York did not use the word “democracy” in his 1933 inaugural address, but in 1940 he used it 33 times in his annual message.

What changed? Some claim it was absolute conspiracy. Others believe it to be a matter of semantics. Does it matter? Thoreau said, “There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.” Even De Tocqueville warned, “If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event will arise from the unlimited tyranny of the majority.” More fearfully, Gorbachev stated that “according to Lenin, socialism and democracy are indivisible…”

Yes, it does matter. The difference is foundational. A republic recognizes man’s heart as being desperately wicked, needing the law structure to keep from destroying itself. A democracy depends on man’s innate goodness. The Founders gave us a republic because they wanted to protect us from democracy. We need to understand the difference, educate our children and inform our citizens to keep from sliding into what we do not want.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Phillis Wheatley

Taking a break from the politics of Black History. I will return, however, to the history after I've taken the time to honor some of those African Americans who enriched our culture and fought for their freedom.

Phillis Wheatley was sold into slavery at the age of 7 and was treated as one of the family of John and Susannah Wheatley. They taught her to read the Bible and to write. She learned quickly and soon began to make up rhymes.

At 16 Phillis wrote a poem entitled “On the Death of Mr. George Whitefield.” This poem won her international attention and was published in England and America.

Phillis wrote many poems to encourage the patriots before and during the Revolution, even sending “To His Excellency George Washington” to General Washington. He replied to her and invited her to visit him – which she did.

As the first African American woman to publish a book, we remember her for Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral and being the first African American woman to earn a living by writing.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Party Platforms and Black History Part V

Following the passage of Fugitive Slave Law and Kansas Nebraska Act some anti-slavery Democrats, along with other anti-slavery activists, formed a new party in 1854 – the Republican Party.

One of the founders of this new Republican Party was US Senator Charles Sumner. He promoted civil rights and desegregation of public schools.

In 1856 Sumner gave a two-day speech in the Senate against slavery, but he got carried away and mocked Andrew Butler, relative of Democrat Representative Preston Brooks, and vilified Stephen Douglas. Afterward, Brooks clubbed him down on the floor of the Senate with his cane and knocked him out, almost to the point of death. It took 3½ years before Sumner returned to the Senate and delivered another speech against slavery.

The South, however, declared Brooks a hero and made walking canes in his honor.

The 1856 Presidential elections pitted Republicans against Democrats for the first time. The Republican platform emphatically called for equality and civil rights for African Americans. The Democrat platform declared that abolitionists would lead to dangerous consequences and diminish happiness of the people.

In spite of being overtly pro-slavery, the Democrat Party won the presidency, and James Buchanan became president.

Soon, 1857, in the famous Dred Scott case, the Democratically controlled Supreme Court declared Blacks to be non persons, claiming they were property.

The unintended consequence of the Dred Scott decision was the Panic of 1857. Railroad builders had pushed westward because they were confident that it would be free. After the decision, east/west railroad bonds plummeted from the uncertainty that arose, causing the panic to spread throughout the Northern banking community.

In the1860 presidential election, the Republican platform condemned the Fugitive Slave Law and the Dred Scott decision. The Democratic platform, however, embraced both of these.

Republicans won the presidency, House and Senate for the first time. Southern Democrats, knowing that anti-slavery legislation was on its way, left Congress and took their states with them, forming a slaveholding ‘nation.’ Northern Democrats remained pro-slavery, but refused to secede.

The struggle between the North and South filled the next several years.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Fugitive Slave Law - Black History Part IV

After passing the Missouri Compromise, this Democratic Congress continued by enacting the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 to require Northerners to return slaves who had escaped. It developed, however, into a means for Southerners to kidnap free Black citizens and take them south.

Out of fear of being captured, many (probably more than 20,000) free Black citizens fled to Canada. The Underground Railroad reached its peak during this time, aiding both slaves and free men to find a safe place to live.

After the Fugitive Slave Law, this same Congress expanded slavery by passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This Act essentially repealed the restrictions on slavery in the Missouri Compromise by allowing slavery to be introduced into parts of the territory where it was previously forbidden. Because the Kansas-Nebraska Territory was so large, it effectually pushed slavery from one coast to the other – opening the entire Louisiana Purchase to slavery.

In the end, this push to increase slave states and territory caused a split in the Democrat Party. Many hoped to reverse some of the damage by this Congress.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Black History Part III

With the future looking so bright for these slaves, what went wrong? The Constitution and Declaration of Independence documented equality of men and the God-given right of freedom. Congress had forbidden slave trade and passed the Northwest Ordinance prohibiting slavery in the territory. Slavery appeared to be on the way out.

By 1820 most of the Founders had died and a new party was in charge of Congress. When Missouri wanted to join the union, dispute arose as to whether it would be a slave or free state. Some had assumed there would be no more slave states. Others wanted to keep the number of states on each side of the slavery issue equal.

Even though Rufus King - signer of the Constitution, NY Senator, US Senator, vice presidential candidate and presidential candidate – claimed the Constitution empowered Congress to prohibit slavery in Missouri and make prohibition a prerequisite for admission to the Union, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise.

The passage of this bill was the first time after the signing of the Declaration and the Constitution that slavery was promoted by congressional policy.

To those who had thought that slavery was not to be expanded, this “Compromise” - which was really not a compromise – was a defeat. It began the unraveling of a constitution that had steered the country in the direction of elimination of slavery.

In one generation, the party in power in Congress had changed and the country took a devastating turn.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Black History Month - continued

In addition to the Constitution, Congress made further progress toward a free society by passing the Northwest Ordinance. This ordinance outlawed slavery in any of the federal territories. Because of this, the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin all entered the union as free states.

In 1808 Congress continued to work toward the elimination of slavery by abolishing slave trade. On January 1st of that year Rev. Absalom Jones, the first black bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, preached his famous Thanksgiving sermon at St. Thomas’ Church, praising God for the passage of this law.

Rev. Jones was one of three prominent men who led the way for building this church. Another was Rev. Richard Allen, another famous black preacher. These two men formed the Free African Society that assisted fugitive slaves in the city. They joined with Dr. Benjamin Rush to build St. Thomas' Church where Rev. Jones delivered his speech.

The future looked brighter for these former slaves. First the Constitution and then these two laws moved the country in the direction of freedom and equality for all.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

February - Black History Month

Several years ago I realized that my knowledge of history was pathetic. Answer to problem: Study. In so doing, I found that much history is not taught and, therefore, even those who knew more than me had gaps in their understanding of our nation.

Case in point: Black History Month started in February 1926. I have known for years that the US began observing this month to acknowledge Black people and their culture. I personally did not pay much attention to it because I saw no need to set a month aside for just one segment on our nation. We are a melting pot after all.

In reviewing my history, however, I have changed my mind. Our history books have ignored too much Black history. So, I have determined that this month I will share a little of what I’ve learned. I will try to be brief - to encourage you to come back for more.

A good place to begin is with the Constitution and that horrible three-fifths clause. I had not completely understood why this was a good thing. Sounded like the document was saying that a black person was only three-fifths of a person. In fact, Frederick Douglass, a slave who had escaped to New York, believed that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document and indicated so in his writings and speeches.

After researching the subject, reading the Constitution and the writings of those who wrote the Constitution, Douglass concluded that it “contained principles and purposes entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.” The writers included this clause in an effort to keep the pro-slavery states from gaining overwhelming power in the House of Representatives. (If all of the slaves had been counted, the pro-slavery states would have greatly increased their representation without giving the slaves a voice.) The three-fifths clause was an anti-slavery provision.

So, even at the time of the writing of the Constitution, misunderstandings about the intent of the Founders existed. Frederick Douglass helped to clarify their intent and fight for freedom for all.

Douglass worked for New York’s anti-slavery society and served as preacher at Zion Methodist Church. He helped recruit the first black regiment to fight for the Union. Following the Civil War, Republican Presidents Grant, Hayes and Garfield honored him with Presidential appointments. Democratic President Cleveland removed him from office, but Republican President Harrison reappointed him.

Frederick Douglass also published his own newspaper and fought for women’s rights. After many more years in public service, Douglass died of a massive heart attack at the age of 77.

We need to observe Black History month not only to preserve knowledge of the accomplishments of Frederick Douglass and other hard working individuals like him, but also to understand the role that individuals and parties in our government played in their journey to freedom and equality.

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