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Address During The Presidential Campaign Of 1880


PINKNEY BENTON STEWART PINCHBACK is one of the most interesting and
picturesque figures in the race. A staunch fighter in the Reconstruction
period in Louisiana, a delegate to many national Republican Conventions;
Ex-Lieutenant-Governor of Louisiana.

[Note 17: Delivered at Indianapolis, Indiana.]

Mr. President and Fellow Citizens:

The founders of the Republican party were aggressive men. They believed
in the Declaration of Independence and the great truths it contains; and
their purpose was to make these truths living realities. Possessing the
courage of their convictions and regarding slavery as the arch enemy of
the Republic--the greatest obstruction to its maintenance, advancement
and prosperity,--they proclaimed an eternal war against it and,
marshalling their forces under the banner of freedom and equality before
the law for all men, boldly and defiantly met the enemy at every point
and fairly routed it all along the line. Those men believed in and
relied upon the conscience of the people. To touch and arouse public
conscience and to convince it of the justice of their cause, they felt
was all that was necessary to enlist the people on their side.
Ridiculed, threatened, ostracised, and assaulted, they could not be
turned from their purpose, and their achievements constitute the
grandeur and glory of the Republican party. There were no apologists
for wrong-doers among those men, and there ought to be none in the
Republican party to-day. The South was the great disturbing element
then as it is now; and the causes which rendered it so are, in a
large measure, the same. The people were divided into three
classes--slave-holders, slaves, and poor whites, or "poor white trash"
as the latter were called by the colored people because of their utter
insignificance in that community. Its peculiar condition established in
the large land and slave-owning portion of the people a sort of
privileged class who claimed and exercised the right not only to rule
the South, but the nation; and for many years that class controlled
both. Gorged with wealth and drunk with power, considering themselves
born to command and govern, being undisputed rulers, almost by
inheritance in their States, the Southern politicians naturally became
aggressive, dictatorial, and determined to ruin the country and sever
the Union rather than consent to relinquish power, even though called
upon to do so by constituted methods. Hence it was that, when the people
of the great North and Northwest concluded to assert their rights and
choose a man from among themselves for President, they rebelled and
forced upon the country so far as they were concerned, the most
causeless and unnatural war recorded in history.

I shall not dwell upon the history of the war or attempt to detail its
horrors and sum up its cost. I leave that task to others. If the wounds
made by it have been healed, which I do not concede, far be it from my
purpose to re-open them. My sole reason for referring to the war at all
is to remind the Northern people of some of the agencies employed in its
successful prosecution. When it commenced, the principal labor element
of the South--the source of its production and wealth--was the colored
race. Four millions and a half of these unfortunate people were there,
slaves and property of the men who refused to submit to the will of the
people lawfully expressed through the ballot-box. They were the bone and
sinew of the Confederacy, tilling its fields and producing sustenance
for its armies, while many of the best men of the North were compelled
to abandon Northern fields to shoulder a musket in defense of the Union.
As a war measure and to deprive the South of such a great advantage,
your President, the immortal Lincoln, issued a proclamation in
September, 1862, in which he gave public notice that it was his purpose
to declare the emancipation of the slaves in the States wherein
insurrection existed on January 1, 1863, unless the offenders therein
lay down their arms. That notice, thank God, was disregarded, and the
proclamation of January 1, 1863, proclaiming universal emancipation
followed. Had the requirements of the first proclamation been observed
by the people to whom it was addressed who can doubt what would have
been the fate of the colored people in the South? It is reasonable to
assume, inasmuch as the war was waged to perpetuate the Union and not to
destroy slavery--that they would have remained in hopeless bondage. On
more than one occasion President Lincoln officially declared that he
would save the Union with slavery if he could, and not until it became
manifest that slavery was the mainstay of the Confederacy, and the
prosecution of the war to a successful close would be difficult without
its destruction, did he dare touch it. I do not think that President
Lincoln's hesitancy to act upon the question arose from sympathy with
the accursed institution, for I believe every pulsation of his heart was
honest and pure and that he was an ardent and devoted lover of universal
liberty; but he doubted whether his own people would approve of his
interference with it. Assured by the manner in which the people of the
North received his first proclamation that they appreciated the
necessity of destroying this great aid of the enemy, he went forward
bravely declaring that, "possibly for every drop of blood drawn by the
lash one might have to be drawn by the sword, but if so, as was said
over eighteen hundred years ago, the judgments of the Lord are just and
righteous altogether," and abolished human slavery from the land

That this great act was a Godsend and an immeasurable blessing to the
colored race, I admit, but I declare in the same breath that it was
dictated and performed more in the interest of the white people of the
North and to aid them in conquering the rebellion than from love of or a
disposition to help the Negro. The enfranchisement of the colored race
also sprang from the necessities of the nation. At the close of the war
the Southern States had to be rehabilitated with civil governments and
re-admitted into the Union. The men who had plunged the country into war
and had tried to destroy the Government were about to resume their civil
and political rights, and, through the election of Representatives and
Senators in Congress, regain influence and power in national councils.
Apprehending danger from the enormous power they would possess if
reinstated in absolute control of eleven States, some means had to be
devised to prevent this. A political element, loyal to the Union and the
flag, must be created; and again the ever faithful colored people were
brought into requisition, and without their asking for it, the elective
franchise was conferred upon them. There was no question about the
loyalty of these people, and the supposition that they would be a
valuable political force and form the basis of a loyal political party
in the South was both natural and just, and the wisdom of their
enfranchisement was demonstrated by the establishment of Republican
governments in several of the States, and the sending of mixed
delegations of Republican and Democratic members of Congress therefrom
so long as the laws conferring citizenship upon the colored man were

If the South is to remain politically Democratic as it is to-day, it is
not the fault of the colored people. Their fealty to the North and the
Republican party is without parallel in the world's history. In
Louisiana alone more than five thousand lives attest it. While in nearly
every other Southern State fully as many lie in premature graves,
martyrs to the cause. Considering themselves abandoned and left to the
choice of extermination or the relinquishment of the exercise of their
political rights, they have, in large districts in the South, wisely
preferred the latter. Kept in a constant condition of suspense and dread
by the peculiar methods of conducting canvasses and elections in that
section, who can blame them? It is my firm conviction that no other
people under God's sun, similarly situated, would have done half so
well. The fault is attributable to the vicious practise, which obtains
largely even here in the civilized North, of apologizing for and
condoning crimes committed for political purposes. Men love power
everywhere and Southern Democrats are no exception. On the contrary,
deeming themselves "born to command," as I have already remarked, and
knowing that there is no power to restrain or punish them for crimes
committed upon the poor and defenseless colored citizens, of course they
have pushed them to the wall. The inequality between the two races in
all that constitutes protective forces was such as to render that result
inevitable as soon as Federal protection was withdrawn, and I do not
hesitate to affirm that unless some means are devised to enforce respect
for the rights of the colored citizens of the South, their
enfranchisement will prove a curse instead of a benefit to the country.
Emancipated to cripple the South and enfranchised to strengthen the
North, the colored race was freed and its people made citizens in the
interest of the Republic. Its fundamental law declares them citizens,
and the Fifteenth Amendment expressly states that: "The right of
citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or
previous condition of servitude." The faith and honor of the Nation are
pledged to the rigid enforcement of the law in this, as in every other
respect, and the interests of the 40,000,000 white people in the
Republic demand it. If the law, both constitutional and statutory,
affecting the rights and privileges of the colored citizens can be
defiantly ignored and disobeyed in eleven States of the Union in a
matter of such grave import as this--a matter involving the very essence
of republican government, i. e., the right of the majority to
rule--who can tell where it will end and how long it will be before
elections in all of the States will be armed conflicts, to be decided by
the greatest prowess and dexterity in the use of the bowie knife,
pistol, shot-gun and rifle?

White men of the North, I tell you this practise of controlling
elections in the South by force and fraud is contagious! It spreads with
alarming rapidity and unless eradicated, will overtake and overwhelm you
as it has your friends in the South. It showed its horrid head in Maine,
and came very near wresting that State from a lawful majority. Employed
in the South first to drive Republicans from a few counties, it has
grown from "autumnal outbreaks" into an almost perpetual hurricane and,
gathering force as it goes, has violently seized State after State,
mastered the entire South, and is even now thundering at the gates of
the national Capital. Whether it shall capture it too, and spread its
blighting influence all over the land, is the question you must
answer at the poles in this election.

It was the intention of the great men who founded this Republic that it
should be "A government of the people, for the people, and by the
people"; that its citizens, from the highest to the lowest, should enjoy
perfect equality before the law. To realize this idea the rule of the
majority, to be ascertained through the processes provided by law, was
wisely adopted, and the laws providing for and regulating elections are
respected and obeyed in the Northern, Eastern, and Western States. The
Democracy of the South alone seems privileged to set at defiance the
organic as well as every statutory enactment, national and State,
designed to secure this essential principle of free government. Those
men must be taught that such an exceptional and unhealthy condition of
things will not be tolerated; that the rights of citizens of every
nationality are sacred in the eyes of the law, and their right to vote
for whom they please and have their ballots honestly counted shall not
be denied or abridged with impunity; that the faith of the Nation is
pledged to the defense and maintenance of these obligations, and it will
keep its pledge at whatever cost may be found necessary.

Next: The Black Woman Of The South: Her Neglects And Her Needs

Previous: Oration On The Occasion Of The Unveiling Of Freedmen's Monument

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