The Dividing Line Between the two Centuries

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The first century of the American Constitution has passed, and has been grandly celebrated. We now stand on the dividing line, and enter upon the Second Century with its unknown trials and triumphs. What these may be, we may judge, perhaps, in part, if we turn to those of the past. Among the many and serious objections made against the Constitution at the outset, demanding protracted discussions, Compromises and Amendments, none were graver or more far-reaching in their consequences than those respecting State Rights and the recognition of Negro slavery. The bottom difficulty in these was probably that of slavery, for, if it had not introduced such radically different industries in the two sections of the country, with their different interests, and habits of thought and life, the question of State Rights might have slumbered in quietude. But when slavery had to be defended, State Rights was the bastion behind which the defense sheltered itself. Whether the Compromise with slavery at the outset were the wise thing or not, it is not worth while now to consider. We do not know what the consequences would have been if the Compromise had not been made. We all know now, only too sadly, the dreadful price that was at last paid for the Compromise.

But the war killed slavery and buried it beyond resurrection. Logically, it also killed the State Rights doctrine. But we fear it “still lives” in the heart of Jefferson Davis, and in the hearts of the many millions who still revere him as the leader of the “lost cause.” Its avowal is still heard from Southern lips and in the Southern press. Will there be any occasion for its revival into active life? We fear there will be. Slavery has left behind it a ghost which no more than that of Banquo will “down.” Race prejudice is as unyielding in the Southern heart to-day as was the purpose once to maintain slavery. Should that prejudice persist in its inexorable demands, another contest may arise, in which the enfranchised millions may be goaded to take part, and the North, as in the case of slavery, may be involved in the dreadful struggle. At what time in the coming hundred years of the Constitution this new struggle may come, no one can predict. The crisis will not be averted by merely deprecating it, and we know of no Compromise that can reach it. The only possible relief that we can see is by educating the Negro, till he shall rise to a position that will challenge the respect of his fellow-citizens and secure to him his equal rights under the glorious Constitution of the United States of America.

Frederick Douglass

Few colored men in the United States have occupied a more prominent position than Frederick Douglass; and there are none whose opinions are more worthy of respect. His address delivered at the celebration of the Twenty-seventh Anniversary of the Emancipation of the Slaves in the District of Columbia was thoughtful, well-expressed and emphatic in its utterances. While we might not accord with every sentiment, we wish we could publish the whole. We content ourselves with a few pointed extracts.

The Irrepressible Conflict Still in Progress

“From every view I have been able to take of the present situation in relation to the colored people of the United States, I am forced to the conclusion that the irrepressible conflict, of which we heard so much before the War of the Rebellion and during the war, is still in progress. It is still the battle between two opposite civilizations—the one created and sustained by slavery, and the other framed and fashioned in the spirit of liberty and humanity, and this conflict will not be ended until one or the other shall be completely adopted in every section of our common country.”

The Condition of the Plantation Negro

“From my outlook, I am free to affirm that I see nothing for the Negro of the South but a condition of absolute freedom or of absolute slavery. I see no half-way place for him. One or the other of these conditions is to solve the so called Negro-problem. Let it be remembered that the labor of the Negro is his only capital. Take this from him and he dies from starvation. The present mode of obtaining his labor in the South gives the old master-class a complete mastery over him. The payment of the Negro by orders on stores, where the storekeeper controls price, quality and quantity, and is subject to no competition, so that the Negro must buy there and nowhere else—an arrangement by which the Negro never has a dollar to lay by, and can be kept in debt to his employer year in and year out, puts him completely at the mercy of the old master-class. He who could say to the Negro when a slave, you shall work for me or be whipped to death, can now say to him with equal emphasis, you shall work for me or I will starve you to death. This is the plain, matter-of-fact and unexaggerated condition of the plantation Negro in the Southern States to-day.”

Why the Negro does not Emigrate?

“I will tell you. He has not a cent of money to emigrate with, and if he had, and desired to exercise that right, he would be arrested for debt, for non-fulfillment of contract, or be shot down like a dog in his tracks. When Southern Senators tell you that they want to be rid of the negroes, and would be glad to have them all clear out, you know, and I know, and they know, that they are speaking falsely, and simply with a view to mislead the North. Only a few days ago, armed resistance was made in North Carolina to colored emigration from that State, and the first exodus to Kansas was arrested by the old master-class with shotguns and Winchester rifles. The desire to get rid of the negro is a hollow sham. His labor is wanted to-day in the South just as it was wanted in the old times when he was hunted by two-legged and four-legged bloodhounds.”

No Fears of the Final Result

“In conclusion, while I have plainly portrayed the sources of danger to our people, I have no fears as to the final result. The American people are governed, not only by laws and selfish interests, but by large ideas of moral and material civilization. The spirit of justice, liberty, and fair play is abroad in the land. It is in the air. It animates men of all stations, of all professions and callings, and can neither be silenced nor extirpated. It has an agent in every bar of railroad iron, a servant in every electric wire, a missionary in every traveler. It not only tunnels the mountains, fills up the valleys, and sheds upon us the light of science, but it will ultimately destroy the unnumbered wrongs inherited by both races from the system of slavery and barbarism. In this direction is the trend of the nation. States may lag, parties may hesitate, leaders may halt, but to this complexion it must come at last. States, parties and leaders must, and will in the end, adjust themselves to this overwhelming and irresistible tendency. It will make parties, and unmake parties, will make rulers, and unmake rulers, until it shall become the fixed, universal, and irreversible law of the land. For fifty years, it has made progress against all contradictions. It stemmed the current of opposition in church and State. It has removed many proscriptions. It has opened the gates of knowledge. It has abolished slavery. It has saved the Union. It has reconstructed the government upon a basis of justice and liberty, and it will see to it that the last vestige of fraud and violence on the ballot box shall disappear, and there shall be one country, one law, one liberty, for all the people of the United States.”

Developing Patriotism Among the Colored People

Rev. G. S. Rollins
The security of any nation rests largely upon the patriotism of its people. America is in danger, not from foes without, but from within her own borders. How to Americanize the foreign element, is the problem which confronts the people of our great cities; a question which more directly concerns the Northern portion of our country.

Here in the South is a different case. We have eight million Negroes— born Americans. The one all-absorbing question is, how to fit them for citizenship—how to make patriotic citizens of them.

Is patriotism in danger among the colored people? Yes, and mainly for two reasons.

First, because of their ignorance of our country; its history, constitution and government. Some will think that this is a danger which will soon pass away, as the older and more ignorant ones die. It is true that the number of those who were advanced in years at the close of the war is rapidly decreasing, but there is an astonishingly large number of those who were young at that time and are now in the prime of life. They are ignorant of our National history previous to the Civil War. What they have learned since, has been politics rather than patriotism. They look upon our nation as two great political parties, each struggling for the mastery. One they regard as hostile, and the other friendly, to them. This is the extent of their knowledge of United States history. Although they have been told that we are a great nation under a beneficent government, such a fact is difficult for them to comprehend, since all they see is the by-play of party politicians. They know they have a right to vote, but how can they respect a government that does not always and everywhere protect them in the exercise of that right?

A second reason why patriotism is in danger among the colored people: They are not surrounded by that intensely national spirit which prevails in other parts of our country. By this, I would not take one iota from the loyalty and patriotism of the Southern people. The fact cannot be denied, however, that one in the South hears and reads but little about the United States of America. Much is written and said about the State, but little genuine enthusiasm for the whole country is displayed. A general spirit of distrust of the Federal Government is constantly coming to the surface. Newspapers and men talk as if they were constantly afraid the government would overstep its bounds and encroach upon the rights of the States. The Southern press is ever complaining of the sectionalism of the North. And when confronted with the necessity of teaching United States History in the public schools, it rejects the current school histories. It is not the present object to remark further upon this than to call attention to the fact that there is a state of public sentiment which is not productive of warm patriotism. Two years ago, the writer, while attending an anniversary in a Northern city, witnessed a scene that will not soon be forgotten. Fifty thousand people were gathered on a public square, and at a given signal a beautiful new flag was unfurled, and the band struck up “America.” Fifty thousand voices took up the tune. Men cheered until they were hoarse. One gray-haired Irishman with tears shouted, “Thank God I live under the American flag.” Such scenes develop patriotism. They are rare in the South.

In the midst of indifference toward the national government, the colored race is developing and multiplying, and that so rapidly that it is a most important factor in the political affairs of the nation. Like begets like. Indifference toward the government on the part of the whites, breeds the same in the Negroes.

Now, true patriotism is a positive power. A new generation of colored people is growing up. Upon these rests the future of the race. These two defects, lack of education and unpatriotic surroundings, will best be remedied by the education of this new generation.

United States History should be a prominent study, even in the primary departments of our schools. The vast majority of the colored children can remain in school only long enough to get a knowledge of the elements, and among these should be American history. What if children cannot pronounce the names of all the cities in Siberia? Teach them to speak intelligently of Lexington, Bunker Hill and Yorktown. Hang the walls of the school-room with pictures of great Americans. Let incidents from their lives be used as illustrations of moral lessons. Explain the principles and form of our government. Dwell upon the extent of its domain and its vast resources. Define simply the privileges conferred, and the duties imposed, upon the citizens of our government. Four things should be taught them: the three R’s and American history. What is needed among all our citizens, is a great lifting up where a broad view of our great land can be had. Make the children feel that they dwell in a great and goodly land, that they enjoy great privileges under its government, and they will learn to love it.

When Independence Day arrives, arrange for public gatherings of the people, and in short addresses explain to them the meaning of the day. Let it be a day of opportunity for instructing them in the history of our country and in the duties of citizenship. These are some of the ways in which the colored people may be aroused from their apathy and indifference toward their country, and inspired with a patriotism, not blind and spasmodic, but intelligent and permanent.

A Negro Girl’s Prose Poem

In attendance at one of the ward schools of Indianapolis is a little colored girl nine years old. She is miserable, indeed, for at home she is ill treated, and the shoes she wears, and often the clothes, are supplied by the teachers or some of her classmates. There is a tender, poetic vein in her make-up, and it found vent in a composition. The teacher took a little pansy plant to school one day and told the pupils of the flower. Two days after, she asked them to write a story of it, and gave them the privilege of having the pansy talk and tell the story, and this is what the little colored girl wrote, the word pansy in the copy being the only one dignified with a capital:

“I am only a Pansy, my home is in a little brown house. I sleep in my little brown house all winter, and I am now going to open my eyes and look about. ‘give me some rain sky, I want to look out of my window and see what is going on,’ I asked, so the sky gave me some water and I began to clime to the window, at last I got up there and open my eyes, oh what a wonderful world I seen when birds sang songs to me, and grasshoppers kissed me, and dance with me, and creakets smiled at me, and I had a pretty green dress. there was trees that grow over me and the wind faned me. the sun smiled at me, and little children smelled me. one bright morning me and the grasshoppers had a party he wood play with me and a naughty boy pick me up and tore me up and I died and that was the last of Pansy.”




MLA Source Citation:

Various. The American Missionary, Vol. 43, No. 8, August, 1889. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 24 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/black-genealogy/the-dividing-line-between-the-two-centuries.htm - Last updated on Mar 7th, 2013


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