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Undaunted Radical

The Selected Writings and Speeches of Albion W. Tourgée

Mark Elliott

Publication Year: 2010

A leading proponent of racial equality in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century, Albion W. Tourgée (1838–1905) served as the most articulate spokesman of the radical wing of the Republican party, and he continued to advocate for its egalitarian ideals long after Reconstruction ended. Undaunted Radical presents Tourgée’s most significant letters, speeches, and essays from the commencement of Radical Reconstruction through the bleak days of the era of Jim Crow. An Ohioan by birth, Tourgée served in the Union army and afterwards moved to North Carolina, where he helped draft the 1868 state constitution. Within that and other documents he proposed free public education, the abolition of whipping posts, the end of property qualifications for jury duty and office holding, and the initiation of judicial reform and uniform taxation. Tourgée also served as a Republican-installed superior court judge, a position that brought him into increasing conflict with the Ku Klux Klan. In 1879, he published A Fool’s Errand, a bestselling novel based on his Reconstruction experiences. Although now often overlooked, Tourgée in his lifetime offered a prominent voice of reason amid the segregation, disenfranchisement, lynching, racial propaganda, and mythologies about African Americans that haunted Reconstruction-era society and Gilded Age politics. These thirty-four documents elaborate the reformer’s opinions on the Reconstruction Amendments, his generation’s racial and economic theories, the cultural politics of North-South reconciliation, the ethics of corporate capitalism, the Social Gospel movement, and the philosophical underpinnings of American democratic citizenship. Mark Elliott and John David Smith, among the foremost authorities on Tourgée, have brought these writings, including the previously unpublished oral arguments Tourgée delivered before the U.S. Supreme Court as Homer Plessy’s lead attorney in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), together in one volume. The book also includes an introductory overview of Tourgée’s life and an exhaustive bibliography of Tourgée’s writings and related works, providing an essential collection for anyone studying Reconstruction and the early civil rights movement.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi

The editors would like to thank those people and institutions who provided invaluable assistance in the preparation of this volume. Our thanks go to the Chautauqua County Historical Society, Westfield, New York; the Schomburg Center for Research in...

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pp. 1-21

Albion W. Tourgée was among the foremost champions of racial equality in the nineteenth century. Though he was hardly the only white American of his time to believe that all men, regardless of race, were born equal and deserved equal rights and consideration, few could match the intensity...


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1. To the Voters of Guilford (1867)

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pp. 25-27

Having been urgently solicited to become a candidate for the Constitutional Convention, and having consented to do so, I hereby offer for your suffrages, as the exponent of the following principles to the earnest and unflinching support of which, in the future as in the past, I am impelled...

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2. The Reaction (1868)

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pp. 28-34

It is an assertion constantly reiterated by men of almost every shade of political belief, that a political reaction has begun, and is now going on, in the minds of the American people. According to Conservative authority, the people are sickened of “nigger,” “taxation,” “equality,” “loyal rule”; in short...

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3. Speech on Elective Franchise (1868)

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pp. 35-42

Mr. President: The manner in which this question has been discussed has certainly awakened my surprise. The attention of the Convention has been chiefly directed to the question of the colored man’s right to vote. This to my apprehension sir, is a dead issue, a settled question, it has been...

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4. Letter to the North Carolina Standard (1870)

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pp. 43-46

As you are aware I am not accustomed to pay any attention whatever to the assaults of traducers, being satisfied that the majority of them are simply contemptible fabrications of feeble minded malice. Having, however, been assailed in public debate upon the floor of the [state] Senate; and...

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5. Letter to Senator Joseph C. Abbott (1870)

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pp. 47-51

It is my mournful duty to inform you that our friend John W. Stephens, State Senator from Caswell, is dead. He was foully murdered by the Ku-Klux in the Grand Jury room of the Court House on Saturday or Saturday night last. The circumstances attending his murder have not yet...

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6. Letter to Martin B. Anderson (1874)

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pp. 52-53

Your letter is rec’d and places me under new obligations for your kindness. You would hardly write so coolly of my election—I suppose—if you knew the situation fully. I am hardly sure of the nomination. It is admitted that I am the only man who has a ghost of a chance to carry the...

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7. Letter to E. S. Parker (1875)

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pp. 54-57

Your favor of yesterday is received. . . . In answer to your question, I am not aware of any change in my political faith, nor even an inclination to change. If I were to write my political creed it would be Lincoln’s favorite aphorism. “A government...

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8. Root, Hog, or Die (ca. 1876)

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pp. 58-62

Reconstruction has been a failure. It is useless to deny this fact. It has not only been a failure, but one of so utter and ignominious a character that people are even disinclined to go back and inquire into its causes. Of course, by failure it is not meant to be said that the physical unity...


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9. Aaron’s Rod in Politics (1881)

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pp. 65-87

Simultaneously with the nomination of General Garfield, the Republican Party had the good fortune to fall heir to a new idea. Such windfalls are by no means frequent in the political world. As a rule, government is simply an eternal repetend. The problem of yesterday is puzzled...

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10. The Veto of the Chinese Bill (1882)

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pp. 88-90

No more statesmanlike document has issued from the White House in many a year, than the calm, dispassionate one in which the President announced his objections to the anti-Chinese bill. In thus calling a halt in “Sand-lot” legislation President Arthur has placed himself...

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11. The Apostle of Evolution (1882)

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pp. 91-92

“Is it right for Christian people to laud to the skies one who has done so much harm as Darwin simply because he is dead?” asks a devout friend. We are not of those who believe that death sanctifies, “the evil that men do lives after them” and ought to do so. The only value of...

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12. From An Appeal to Caesar (1884)

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pp. 93-111

For himself, the author has become impressed with the truth of certain propositions; some of which persons much wiser than he may deny, and others of which they may doubt. Some there certainly are who will reject them. There may be those who, having assented to what was done...

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13. Shall White Minorities Rule? (1889)

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pp. 112-122

The “Negro question” is unquestionably the most momentous problem of our civilization. Considered with regard either to its scope or character it is almost unprecedented in importance, difficulty, and the possible peril involved in its solution. It is not a new question. Slavery and...

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14. From Pactolus Prime, or the White Christ (1889)

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pp. 123-139

Pactolus Prime was the bootblack of the “Best House.” Most of the hotels in the national metropolis are “houses” of some sort. The style serves to mark the evolution of the hostel. The inn or tavern became first a “hotel,” then a “house,” and finally has dropped all descriptive...

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15. From Murvale Eastman, Christian Socialist (1890)

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pp. 140-151

Inheritance and environment are not only realities, but are the most important elements of every life. The thought of yesterday fixes the tendency of today; the conditions of today are the background against which every life is projected...

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16. The Negro’s View of the Race Problem (1890)

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pp. 152-170

Judge Tourgée: So much has been said this morning about the industrial deficiencies of the colored people of the South that I have been greatly surprised at the omission of any reference to the other side of the question—their industrial excellences. I have always been less impressed...


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17. From ’Toinette: A Tale of the South (1874)

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pp. 173-181

It was the 4th of April, 1865—five days before the end came and the heroes surrendered to kindred heroes at Appomattox. Richmond was the seat of empire no more. The brave men who had upheld the glory which for a time she knew were either buried in the harsh arid, bloomless...

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18. From The Veteran and His Pipe (1885)

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pp. 182-202

It is a strangely eventful day, Blower,—the anniversary of death and life. Many, perhaps the great majority of those who think to note its recurrence count it perchance the saddest of all those landmarks by which our national growth is marked, or individual achievement commemorated...

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19. The South as a Field for Fiction (1888)

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pp. 203-211

More than twenty years ago, the writer ventured the prediction that the short, but eventful lifetime of the Southern Confederacy, the downfall of slavery, and the resulting conditions of Southern life would furnish to the future American novelist his richest and most striking material...

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20. From A Memorial of Frederick Douglass from the City of Boston (1895)

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pp. 212-228

The life we commemorate tonight was, in some respects, among the most remarkable the world has ever known. In sharp and swift recurring contrasts it has never been excelled. In the distance from its beginning to its ending it has rarely been equaled. If a man’s capacity be measured...

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21. The Literary Quality of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1896)

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pp. 229-234

The death of Mrs. Stowe invites attention again to that literary marvel which has not only outstripped all competitors for popularity but bids fair to maintain a permanent superiority over all works of fiction in power to touch the universal heart. Through its various translations and...


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22. A Bystander’s Notes: White Caps (1888)

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pp. 237-239

The repulse of the mob of lynchers by the officers in charge of the jail at Birmingham, Ala., has received the attention it deserved from the public press from its very exceptional character. It is worthy of note, however, that while most of the Northern papers improve the opportunity...

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23. A Bystander’s Notes: The Kemper County Affair (1889)

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pp. 240-245

Another chapter in the “race conflict” at Wahalah may be found in the dispatches of today. It will not be new to the readers of the INTER-OCEAN. The Bystander had already outlined its incidents before they were reported. It needs no prophetic vision to foretell events when the...

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24. A Bystander’s Notes: The Afro-American League (1889)

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pp. 246-251

One of the recent facts touching the question of the negro’s relation to our Nation’s affairs is the proposed convention for the purpose of organizing a National league of colored men. The object of such an organization is, broadly stated, to promote the interests of the colored race in the...

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25. Is Liberty Worth Preserving? (1892)

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pp. 252-275

When Washington warned his countrymen that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” and Jefferson declared, “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just,” they each had in mind, no doubt, some specific danger to the liberties of the people they had labored so...

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26. Letter to Professor Jeremiah W. Jencks (1892)

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pp. 276-281

“He said that history and science seem to show that the Negro is of an inferior race and incapable of advanced civilization. When left to themselves, experience showed that the Negroes rapidly retrograded from a higher civilization to a state of barbarism. In the Reconstruction...

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27. Letter to Louis A. Martinet (1893)

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pp. 282-288

I know you will be surprised to hear this from me, and I will explain the reason of it. When we started the fight there was a fair show of favor with the Justices of the Supreme Court. One, at least, had come to regret the “Civil Rights Cases” who had been most strenuously for them...

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28. That Lynching: Judge Tourgée Writes Gov. McKinley and the Editor of “The Gazette” (1894)

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pp. 289-295

Columbus, Ohio—The letters given below were sent me last week by Judge Tourgée, who is too well-known to our readers to need further introduction. They (the letters) were drawn out by the (West Union) lynching of the 17 year-old Afro-American, Roscoe Parker, who was...

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29. Brief of Plaintiff in Error (1895)

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pp. 296-327

Some of the questions arising on this statement of facts and the decision of the court below, as we conceive, are as follows: Has the State the power under the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, to make a distinction based on color in the enjoyment of chartered privileges...

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30. Oral Argument of A. W. Tourgée (1896)

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pp. 328-339

The first of these is that stated in the brief filed by Mr. Walker and myself as the 1st Point of Plaintiff ’s Contention, page 7.—The exemption of railway companies and officers from prosecution in the courts of the state by persons excluded from the cars by the train officers...


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31. Letter to President William McKinley (1898)

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pp. 343-345

I doubt if even the almost unprecedented approval of your administration on an off year at the polls, which marked the election of two weeks ago, would have impressed me with the duty of dictating my congratulations from a sick bed, because I think it should be assumed that every...

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32. Letter to Ferdinand L. Barnett (1900)

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pp. 346-350

Upon the subject in regard to which you write, I must ask you to excuse me from making any statement or argument. All my life, since arriving, at manhood, the study of the relations of the Anglo-Saxon to the colored races of the world, especially in the...

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33. Letter to President Theodore Roosevelt (1901)

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pp. 351-355

It would be hard for me to give any idea of the emotions I have experienced in contemplating this momentous incident. To say that I have been thoroughly dazed is not too much. For more than thirty years my chief thought and study has been the relation of the...

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34. Letter to E. H. Johnson (1902)

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pp. 356-378

Dixon’s book “The Leopard’s Spots,” was sent to me when it first came out, by the publishers. I have read it carefully. It is a most remarkable book—perhaps the most remarkable ever written, not in style or subject but in the truths it unconsciously reveals. I would not have written...


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pp. 379-388


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pp. 389-402

E-ISBN-13: 9780807137543
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807135938

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War