may long remain slaves without complaining; but if they are once raised to the level of freemen they will soon revolt at being deprived of almost all their civil rights. a
If De Tocqueville's premises were just, we might admit his conclusion. We cannot expect, in a democratic republic, to maintain domestic tranquillity if we deprive millions of freemen of their civil rights.
Public opinion may not, at the present time, have reached this conviction, but it is fast approaching it. Three-fourths of the States might not to-day, but are long they will, pass some such amendment to the Constitution as this: 'Slavery shall not be permitted, and no discrimination shall be made, as to the civil or political rights of persons, because of color."
Whenever we shall have so amended the Constitution, the path before us will be plain and safe. But short of entire justice there is no permanent security.
In the immediate exigencies of our present situation is to be found strong additional motive for such an act. In withholding from the freedman his civil and political rights we leave disfranchised, at a critical juncture, 4,000,000 of the most loyal portion of our population. Besides the essential injustice of this,its political results might be of a serious and disastrous character. We need the negro not only as a soldier to aid in quelling the rebellion, but as a loyal citizen to assist in reconstructing on a permanently peaceful and orderly basis the insurrectionary States.
In view of such considerations the Commission regard it of great importance that before receiving back into political fellowship the insurgent portions of the Union, it should be legally established as one of the principles imperative in reconstruction that, in the constitutions of the State when taken back, all freemen shall be secured in equal rights, thus practically carrying out the section of the Constitution which provides, that the United States shall guarantee to every State a republican form of government. b
Aside from any special consideration, however, what, in a general way, may we expect from the freedman if we assure to him his rights? We repeat here, as fully confirmed by all our subsequent experience, what we said nine months ago in our preliminary report:
The observation of the Commission in the sections of country visited by them, together with the evidence obtained from those having most experience among freedmen, justify the conclusion that the African race, as found among us, lacks no essential aptitude for civilization. In a general way the negro yields willingly to its restraints, and enters upon its duties, not with alacrity only, but with evident pride and increase of self- respect. His personal rights as a freedman once recognized in law and assured in practice, there is little reason to doubt that he will become a useful member of the great industrial family of nations. Once released from the disabilities of bondage, he will somewhere find, and will maintain, his own appropriate social position. c.
What that precise position will be, whether we shall find a fair proportion of our colored population worthy competitors with whites in departments of art and science and literature, we have at this time, no means of determining. The essential is, that the enfranchised negro is as capable of taking care of himself and his family as any other portion of our people. On no one point have the Commission found more convincing testimony than on this.
a Democracy in America, Vol. I, p. 486.
b In Supplementary Report B will be found further considerations touching this matter.
c Preliminary Report of the Commission, p. 34 [Vol. III, this series, p. 450.]