Prof. Gregory Favors It.
The Washington Post, July 10th, 1883
“Yes, I thoroughly believe in suffrage in the District,” said Professor James G. Gregory, of Howard university, to a Post reporter, in answer to the question if he favored the present agitation for giving the citizens votes. “Yes, I am in favor of it,” he repeated. “I think the people would be much more contented if they had suffrage. You can see how the people are anxious to have some part in their own government by the interest they take in the choice of the school trustees. Why, there are sometimes more than a half dozen candidates in a single district and any number of delegations going to the commissioners in favor of this or that man. This one matter serves as a sort of outlet for their political feelings.”
“What do you think is the reason for opposition to suffrage?”
“I think that one reason why many oppose giving the citizens suffrage is that they are afraid of the colored vote. They think the colored man is top ignorant to have anything to do with the District affairs. Now, this is a great mistake. Within the past seven or eight years a great change has taken place. The colored people have been greatly influenced by those of their race who have received an education. In some families, perhaps, where the parents have no had the opportunities of books, their children have, and the influence of those children on the home is very marked. Many have been admitted to the public schools and the night schools. Then many of the colored people have become educated by business. In many cases they have prospered and have become property owners. Oh, no, it is a mistake to say that there is any danger from their ignorance in giving them the franchise.”
“Do you believe in universal suffrage?”
“No, I do not say that suffrage should be without limit. Perhaps it would be well to have some property and educational qualification. That is a very broad question. I believe suffrage should be granted , because of the value it would prove the citizens as a political school. We send out children to school to be educated to become citizens, but there is another education– a political education– that the citizens should receive. As it is now very few of the citizens have much of an idea about the Government. They do not discuss the actions of the commissioners as they discuss in other cities municipal affairs. We pay our taxes and that is the end of it. We do not think. Everything is done by the commissioners merely making suggestions and asking for appropriations. This is not the way to become citizens. How do they do in other cities? Why, they meet, discuss affairs, and vote upon their intelligent and deliberate opinions. Suffrage would educate the people in government, in the finance ad in the duties of citizenship.”
“Do you think the District affairs would be managed as economically under popular government?” inquired the reporter. “Was not the opposite found to be the case when there was suffrage?”
“I think that the state of affairs was more the result of circumstances than the system. Before the war nothing had been done for the city. When I came to Washington it was a mudhole. After the war improvements were projected on a large scale, and what it required many years to do in other cities was done here in a short time. Perhaps Governor Shepherd went rather too fast, but you can see what has been accomplished. There are many who object to giving the poor man the ballot because they are afraid property-holders will suffer. Now, the poor man is interested in having property protected. If he has no property, he hope to acquire some, and this will keep him from making any laws injurious to property rights. I lived in Cleveland for some years, where some of the richest men in the country live, and I never saw anything to cause any alarm.”
“Do you think the citizens would take any more interest in the government, or feel any responsibility in its right management if they could vote?”
“Certainly, they would feel that they had something at stake. Then look at the injustice of the thing– to deprive a man of his highest right as a citizen. If we lived in a State of Territory we would have a vote. Why should we be refused it here?”
“Is not Congress given full control over the District?” the reporter asked.
“Certainly; but I do not believe that power implies a right to take away the citizen’s vote. There is not another city in the Union where the same thing is done.”
“What would be your plan for the government of the District?”
“Well, I believe in having three commissioners as now, and if Congress insisted on the right of representation in return for paying half the District expenses, would give to the President the appointment of the engineer commissioner. The other two should be chosen by the people. I believe something of the kind will soon come, too, for the people generally are favoring it.”
This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the Washington Post archives and is in the public domain. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.