On the 7th the President returned, without his approval, the bill regulating Suffrage in the District. His objections to the bill were essentially these: Congress having the power of legislating for the District ought “to have a like respect for the will and interests of its inhabitants as is entertained by a State Legislature for the wishes and interests of the people for whom they legislate.”
The people of the District, at a special election held in December, 1865, by a vote almost unanimous (7369 to 35) voted against the extension to negroes of the right of Suffrage. In 1860 the population of the District was 60,000 whites and 14,000 people of color; now there are 100,000 whites and 30,000 colored; the augmentation of the colored population is owing mainly to the influx of escaped fugitives from Maryland and Virginia.
Having heretofore been held in slavery “and denied all opportunities for mental culture, we should inquire whether, after so brief a probation, they are, as a class, capable of an intelligent exercise of the right of Suffrage, and qualified to discharge the duties of official position.” The President is clearly of opinion that they are not.
And, moreover, “clothed with the right of Suffrage, their numbers largely in excess of the demand for labor, would soon be increased by an efflux from the surrounding States; and hardly yet capable of forming correct judgments upon the important questions that often make the issues of a political contest, they could readily be made subservient to the purposes of designing persons; and it would be within their power in one year to come into the District in such numbers as to have the supreme control of the white race, and to govern them by their own officers, and by the exercise of all the municipal authority—among the rest, of the right of taxation over property in which they have no interest.”
The President says that this law, “imposed upon an unwilling people, placed by the Constitution under the exclusive legislation of Congress, would be viewed as an arbitrary exercise of power, and as an indication by the country of the purpose of Congress to compel the acceptance of negro suffrage by the States. It would engender a feeling of opposition and hatred between the two races which would prevent them from living together in a state of mutual friendliness.”
He proceeds to argue that the extension to them of the power of suffrage is not necessary to enable persons of color to protect themselves in their rights and interests; and urges that there is great danger in the extension of this right to any new class of the population. He refers to the checks which are interposed in the way of the naturalization of emigrants, who are required, in addition to a residence of five years, to prove good moral character. It can not, he says, be supposed that the negroes, “from their previous condition of servitude are, as a class, as well informed as to the nature of our government as the intelligent foreigner who makes our land the home of his choice.”
The bill was passed notwithstanding the veto of the President (in the Senate, by 29 to 10 — 13 Senators not voting; and in the House by 113 to 38 — 41 members not voting). More than two-thirds of each House voting in its favor; the bill becomes a law.
This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original article found on Google Books. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.