Echoes of Reconstruction: Congratulating Virginia for Rejecting Black Citizenship

Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome back Patrick Young, author of The Reconstruction Era blog.

On January 9, 1867, Virginia rejected the proposed 14th Amendment. The Amendment granted United States citizenship to anyone born in the United States, including former slaves, regardless of race. It also encouraged the granting of the right to vote to African Americans.

After it had been approved by the Federal Senate and House of Representatives, it was sent to the states to ratify it. The 1867 Virginia legislature was made up of politicians elected by the whites-only electorate in 1865. All of the members of the legislature were white. The Virginia Senate voted against the amendment by a 27-0 majority, and the House of Delegates was 74-1.  At the time, while almost a third of the state’s population was Black, no one in the legislature represented Black people.

The Virginia Pilot is a newspaper based in Norfolk, Virginia. It congratulated the legislature on rejecting the 14th Amendment. Because of its length, I am only reproducing the opening and closing paragraphs.

Friday, Jan 11, 1867
Norfolk, VA
Page: 2

In the concluding paragraphs, the article depicts the rejection of the 14th Amendment as an extension of the military resistance of Virginia’s Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War. The Civil War was alive and well as Confederate families carried on the conflict at the ballot box.
As the Federal government tried to at least guarantee certain civil rights to former slaves, the white population in Virginia took its stand.

10 Responses to Echoes of Reconstruction: Congratulating Virginia for Rejecting Black Citizenship

  1. The gasbag journalism of the mid 19th century is always hilarious to read, even if the content is appalling. Might I also point out that there were no ladies of any hue voting as well in 1867? A state vote, any state vote, to ratify an amendment for that in 1867 would have no doubt had even the good burghers of Long Island apoplectically citing the Bible, the Code of Hammurabi and Cicero in denunciation.

    1. It’s a shame you couldn’t have offered this explanation to John Wilkes Booth, who murdered Lincoln for his support for Black civil rights. I don’t find it plausible, but Booth wasn’t much of a scholar.

      1. I apology to John Pryor, I mean this comment for Rod’s post just below. Sorry for the confusion

        This episode with the VA legislature demonstrates the need for a strong Federal effort to ensure Black civil rights.

  2. Interesting how Virginians in 1867 were beginning to walk in lockstep with the very man they had rightfully opposed in war only a couple of years before. That man, Abraham Lincoln, had long been committed to a white supremacy that not only opposed black civil rights, but as a State legislator of Illinois he never raised his voice against the “Black Codes” of his State which denied blacks the right to migrate there to live! This was in a State where the black population was so small, a person in Illinois could live their entire life and never see a black person! Yet for Lincoln, that was still too many as he participated in efforts to colonize all blacks out of the Union.

    It was a basic racist philosophical principle in his mind that blacks would FOREVER be inferior to whites because of their “physical difference:”

    “There is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe, will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.” (Fourth Lincoln/Douglas Debate 1858.)

    The only time Lincoln considered giving a very limited selection of blacks the right to vote was when it served him politically. Such as his seeking to keep the Louisiana government he had help install in place against the opposition of radicals in his Party. Then only did he support a limited franchise to certain blacks, all while he worked feverishly behind the scenes to get them ALL colonized to any godforsaken place but here. He was hardly a “evolving” toward black equality, thinking they would all be gone and not around to vote for very long!

    Contrast that with what leading Southerners such as Jeff Davis believed. Davis did not think black inferiority “permanent” due to “physical difference,” but rather a temporary condition of their historical circumstance that could be corrected by education:

    “Slavery is for its end the preparation of that race for civil liberty and social enjoyment… When the time shall arrive at which emancipation is proper, those most interested will be most anxious to effect it.” (Senator Jeff Davis on the US Senate floor)

    Alex Stephens also believed that black inequality was temporary as opposed to permanent. In an often conveniently overlooked line in his so called “Cornerstone Speech,” Stephens acknowledged:

    “We hear much of the civilization and Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa. In my judgment, those ends will never be attained, but by first teaching them the lesson taught to Adam, that ‘in the sweat of his brow he should eat his bread,’ and teaching them to work, and feed, and clothe themselves…”

    Virginians opposition to the 14th Amendment held far more reasons than a simple anti-black sentiment suggested by the two paragraphs provided by Mackowski. Southerners saw how the Republican Party was hypocritically seeking to create racial animosity and division in the South in order to transform the former slaves into a voting block against the political leanings of Southerners. They knew the Republicans were using the ignorance of a people only recently freed from bondage and woefully unprepared to make informed votes, much less hold office, as a means of Republican political control of the South. It was also seen as a scheme for punishing the South for having so long stood in the way of Northern schemes for economic exploitation of the Union for sectional benefit.

    Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black man elected to the US Senate, complained in a letter to President Grant regarding these “unprincipled” Republicans:

    “Since reconstruction, the masses of my people have been . . enslaved in mind by unprincipled adventurers, who, caring nothing for country, were willing to stoop to anything, no matter how infamous, to secure power to themselves and perpetuate it… My people… A great portion of them have learned that they were being used as mere tools… My people have been told by these schemers when men were placed upon the ticket who were notoriously corrupt and dishonest, that they must vote for them; that the salvation of the party depended upon it; that the man who scratched a ticket was not a Republican. This is only one of the many means these unprincipled demagogues have devised to perpetuate the intellectual bondage of my people… We do not believe that Republicanism means corruption, theft, and embezzlement. These three offenses have been prevalent among a great portion of our office-holders…. The bitterness and hate created by the late civil strife has, in my opinion, been obliterated in this State, except, perhaps, in some localities, and would have long since been entirely obliterated were it not for some unprincipled men who would keep alive the bitterness of the past and inculcate a hatred between the races, in order that they may aggrandize themselves by office and its emoluments to control my people, the effect of which is to degrade them… If the State administration had adhered to republican principles, advanced patriotic measures, appointed only honest and competent men to office, and sought to restore confidence between the races, blood-shed would have been unknown, peace would have prevailed, Federal interference been unthought of; harmony, friendship, and mutual confidence would have taken the place of the bayonet. In conclusion, let me say to you, and through you, to the great Republican Party of the North, that I deemed it my duty, in behalf of my people, that I present these facts in order that they and the white people (their former owners) should not suffer the misrepresentations which certain demagogues seemed desirous of encouraging.”

    Booker T. Washington echoed the same concerns:

    “THE YEARS from 1867 to 1878 I think may be called the period of Reconstruction. This included the time that I spent as a student at Hampton and as a teacher in West Virginia… Though I was but little more than a youth during the period of Reconstruction, I had the feeling that mistakes were being made, and that things could not remain in the condition that they were in then very long. I felt that the Reconstruction policy, so far as it related to my race, was in a large measure on a false foundation, was artificial and forced. In many cases it seemed to me that the ignorance of my race was being used as a tool with which to help white men into office, and that there was an element in the North which wanted to punish the Southern white men by forcing the Negro into positions over the heads of the Southern whites. I felt that the Negro would be the one to suffer for this in the end.”

    Daniel Chamberlain, the Republican carpetbag reconstruction Governor of South Carolina, would later admit what the Republican Party was up to in passing the 14th Amendment:

    “Underneath all the avowed [Republican] motives . . . lay a deeper cause . . . the determination to secure party ascendency and control at the South and in the nation through the negro vote. If this is hard saying, let anyone now ask himself . . . if it is possibly credible that the [1867] reconstruction acts would have passed if the negro vote had been believed to be Democrat.”

    Even with all these ulterior motives, the 13th and 14th Amendments still lost Northern support as Northern States voted against them. The 14th Amendment could only be passed by illegal means reflective of a banana republic! A legally seated New Jersey Senator had to be unconstitutionally unseated by Republicans in order to get it passed; one of multiple unconstitutional measures taken to get it passed. The 13th Amendment granting blacks the right to vote failed to pass on the first vote because of Northern opposition. Contrast that with the Corwin Amendment that made slavery PERMANENT and beyond amending. With Southern States seceded, and both Houses of Congress firmly in the control of Northern legislators, this pro-slavery amendment passed both Houses with super-majorities!

    Next time, tell the whole story Chris! Spinning the narrative is historical dishonesty.

  3. It is simply historically dishonest at the time to invoke Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson in the attempt to legitimise the State rejection of the 14th Amendment.

    It is true that Robert E. Lee agreed with a large scope of Andrew Johnson’s stances in the post-war; it is very wrong to argue they had identical views.

    Robert E. Lee never eschewed 100% of his racial prejudices with regards Black Americans, but he did make significant and frankly, heroic change in this regard.

    There are 4 pieces of primary evidence which prove that he supported Black Americans being enfranchised in the same terms as Abraham Lincoln; his post-war life was a dedicated one set against the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and on numerous occasions he made a courageous example for racial equality and/or reconciliation.

    Jackson, seemingly directly inspired by Lee’s influence and example, became open to Emancipationism during the war.

  4. So when the Army of Northern Virginia kidnapped free blacks on the way to Gettysburg they were being liberated by Lee and the ghost of Jackson…

    1. It should be noted that the evidence for the charge that the ANVa “kidnapped” African Americans rests on an article printed in a local newspaper in Pennsylvania which says the article was originally published in another local paper. The paper supposed to be the source of the article does not contain the article. In short, the charge rests on hearsay and rumor, not historical documentation.

  5. Many states in the North rejected the 14th Amendment and some states which originally ratified the amendment later rescinded their vote. Virginia does not provide the only example of opposing citizenship for African Americans.

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