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COMMUNICATIONS TO THE EDITOR OF CIVIL WAR HISTORY: In reference to the article by Professor Phyllis Field, "Republicans and Black Suffrage in New York State: the Grass Roots Response" in the June issue of Civil War History, it is stimulating to note that the debate on the nature of Republicanism and the character of Reconstruction continues to encourage scholarly attention. In particular , it is gratifying that the continuing discussion on the purposes and plans that made passage and ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment possible still sparks interest and investigation; it is also refreshing to see further independent evidence that perhaps the Fifteenth Amendment was something less than the Immaculate Conception of Reconstruction politics, or as Professor C. Vann Woodward phrased it: the "Fifteenth Amendment reveals . . . more partisan needs than idealistic aims." (citation below) Further, it is particularly welcome that Professor Field takes seriously enough the measured judgment of Professor Woodward in his "Seeds of Failure in Radical Race Policy" (read before the American Philosophical Society on February 18, 1966 and later published in his American Counterpoint [1971], 179, 168) that the Republican commitment to equality was "lacking in clarity, ambiguous in purpose;" I fully agree with Professor Field's conclusion that there was a desire to remove the issue of Negro suffrage from politics in the state of New York (as, incidentally, elsewhere in the North) and that this was one important motive in Republican support for ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. As I discussed in my study of the Amendment , The Right To Vote: Politics and the Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, on page 88: Once the Negro had political equality, he would then no longer comprise an element of mischief in American politics, said the editor of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer. The Negro would be put out of politics, declared Harper's Weekly. The government would no longer concern itself with the Negro, argued the New York Times. Rather, the Negro would depend on his own self-reliance and self-education, The Nation argued. In much of this sort of reasoning it was tacitly assumed that once he had the vote, the Negro would stay in his place and forget social equality. Though the roots of laissezfaire government and the ethic of individualism run deep in this thinking, the emphasis on the passivity rather than the activity of the Negro in politics and society, combined with the stark negativism toward the Negro as an individual and as a race, suggested prejudice and panic at the taproot. The differ369 370communications rence between the treatment and attitude toward the Negro in the North and South was aptly stated by Thomas Carlyle, who claimed that the southerner said to the Negro " 'God bless youl and be a slave,' while the northerner said, 'God damn youl and be free.' " This desire to put the question behind them is clear from the reaction of northern Republicans following ratification of the Amendment , indicated on page 162 of The Right To Vote: The war for Negro rights appeared to be won by placing the keystone of Reconstruction —the Fifteenth Amendment—into position. With the job apparently done, demobilization of the troops proceeded efficiently . . . The war appeared over; the crusade was finished. Effort thus slackened and interest began to fade. Regarding the ballot as a panacea, whites could in good conscience leave Negroes alone now, because Negroes could protect themselves with the ballot and without the help of government. In short, the celebration of the adoption of the Amendment underscored the option of whites to be indifferent ... In other words, instead of thinking about what was needed in the future, there was self-congratulation about the past. What was indeed a modest beginning struck most Americans as a spectacular ending. The widespread assumption that the Amendment was self-executing and thus bound to succeed paved the way for nullification or at least apathy. However, it is puzzling that Professor Field, in her final paragraph , dismisses out of hand the notion that New York Republicans could not be motivated by a desire for more Republican votes by enfranchising Negroes, because, in her words, "Blacks were not sufficiently numerous to have this effect in New York," (p. 147...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 369-372
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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