|Date(s):||January 18, 1866|
|Location(s):||Washington City, District of Columbia|
|Tag(s):||Politics, African-Americans, Law, Government|
|Course:||“Civil War and Reconstruction,” Juniata College|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
With the conclusion of the Civil War, came the question of what to do about the rights of the freedmen who were now considered men instead of property. George Boutwell gave a speech to the House of Representatives, he rationalized why African Americans should be given at least partial suffrage in the District of Columbia. Among his arguments for Black suffrage in D.C. were: if the freedmen are considered men then with that comes the right to vote, the rights of the family, the strength of the government when under the judgment of the whole, and that he would rather have Blacks voting than men of the rebellion.
Boutwell began his speech by arguing that with the emancipation of the black people “we recognized their manhood.” He argued as a result of their manhood, the principles of our government should automatically grant them the right to vote. He said that with the change of the laws to recognize African Americans, they should be treated equally to whites in the regard of voting rights. He then talked about the fact that as a black man must be the head of a family, so he has the social right to represent his family by voting. He then compared our government to monarchial and aristocratic government, and said that if the black man was not given the right to vote then our government was a failure as a democracy. He argued that the government is better if the government is judged by everyone including blacks by saying, “The unity of sentiment in the loyal states was due to the fact that every man felt that the government was his own.”
The question is often asked whether Reconstruction would have been different if Lincoln was not assassinated. Historian Eugene H. Berwanger explained what Lincoln’s position on black suffrage was exactly. He said that in the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency, he was not in favor of black suffrage or social equality of blacks as seen in his initial inaugural address. Berwanger explained that throughout the presidency Lincoln became much more liberal in his views about black suffrage. By the end of the presidency Lincoln was even drafting the “preparatory works” for legalizing black suffrage. Lincoln said that there should at least be suffrage for the intelligent blacks or blacks who served for the Union. This suggests that the process of legalizing black suffrage may have been accomplished even faster than what it was had Lincoln not been assassinated.
The argument by Boutwell for black suffrage in Washington D.C. was successful as the District of Columbia Suffrage Bill was passed on December 13, 1866. This bill gave blacks the right to vote in D.C. and in the federal territories. This shows that the Radical Congressional Reconstruction had begun and black rights would be a major concern. The right of blacks to vote showed that blacks were on the path for equality although total equality would not be reached for another century.