THE DAY WE CELEBRATE
Anniversary of the Ratification of the 15th Amendment
Grand Celebration in Oberlin
The Colored People Propose to Make the Event Memorable
Interesting Exercises at the Church
Oration by Prof. J. M. Langston
Address by Hon. J. Strong
Festive Occasion in the Evening
The Whole Affair a Cheering Success
A more beautiful day never dawned upon a public occasion than Thursday, the anniversary of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. The event is on which both the white and colored American may well unite in efforts to make it memorable. The motives which inspire these anniversary occasions, are born in a noble impulse of loyal devotion to a common country, and are worthy to be cherished and encouraged.
The celebration of Thursday was prepared in the face of many difficulties, and the grand success which crowned the occasion was cheering in every sense. It was here that the colored man found refuge and friends during that long night of his bonding; it was here that the page of instruction was opened to him, and it was peculiarly fitting that a national event for which Oberlin had done so much to prepare the way, should be commemorated in their midst.
At six o'clock, A. M., the festivities were begun by the firing of cannon on the College campus.
From a very early hour in the morning people began to come in from the country and the adjoining towns; our own people were all out, and soon the streets were filed with a multitude of all colors and nationalities, all dressed in their gayest summer costume and bent upon celebrating with proper display, this grand national anniversary.
At a little after ten o'clock the celebrated colored Band from Delaware, which had arrived on the evening previous, took up its position on North Professor street at the point where the right of the procession was to rest. After less delay than frequently occurs upon such occasions, the procession was formed and ready to move. The chief marshal, Andrew Jackson, Esq., rode in advance, and was followed by one of his aids (sic.). Then came the band, playing cheerful and inspiring airs. Next to the band was a company of fifty or more, on foot, with a United States flag; then a barouche, containing the mayor and common council of the city; a large band-wagon, in which were thirty-seven young ladies, representing the thirty-seven States of the re-constructed Union, and another representing the Goddess of Liberty--all dressed in white. This was followed by another band-wagon, filled with ladies and children; this, by an elegant barouche, containing the President and the speaker of the day, and this, by twenty -eight other carriages. Banners, with appropriate mottoes, were displayed at different points in the procession. Some of them were, "We prefer the deeds of our friends to the promises of our enemies;" "We don't vote for traitors nor their friends;" "We want civil rights;" "Oberlin foremost in the battle for freedom;" "Sumner's last words--'Take care of my Civil Right's bill.'" A portrait of General Grant had over it "The nation's choice," and one of Lincoln, which was placed on a black back-ground, had around it, "Dead but not forgotten." Altogether it was one of the finest and most imposing processions that ever passed through our streets.
The line of march was down S. Professor Street to Morgan, down Morgan to South Main, up South Main to College, up East College to Water, up Water to Lorain, down Lorain to North Main, up North Main to Union, down Union to North Professor, down North Professor to West Lorain, down West Lorain to West, down West to West College, up West College to North Main, up North Main to the First Church. Many of the stores and residences along the route were tastefully decorated, and "flags and streamers gay," in large numbers were displayed. On arriving at the First Church, the procession filed into the spacious lawn in front, and, with the throng that had followed, filled every available foot of ground, and presented a scene such as one is permitted to see but rarely. The President of the day, Sabram Cox, Esq., and the speakers, took position on the steps of the Church, from which George B. Pratt, editor of the News, delivered the following
It has been made my very pleasant duty to speak for Oberlin the words of welcome with which she greets you on this occasion. And as I stand in the presence of this vast multitude of loyal citizens, and feel the thrill of pride which this occasion inspires, I yearn for some power of utterance with which to clothe my words with the intense earnestness of the feeling which prompts them. But, while the feeble words which I may speak to you at this hour will be remembered but a moment, yet the grand chorus of welcome, swelling up from the years of historic past, and uniting with the glad acclaim of a glorious present, rings out to-day a louder and sweeter greeting than any words of mine can utter. Proud moments are they, which bring to us these anniversaries of momentous events that mark the epochs in our nation's history, and shape the destinies of a race. Fitting, indeed, is it, upon this occasion, which seeks to make memorable one of the grandest events which has, r ever will, adorn the page of America's history, that we unfurl our banners, and pledge anew our mutual devotion to the principles of freedom and humanity; and by and by, as the eternal march of years moves on, leaving in its pathway the rich fruitage of peace, prosperity, and blessing; when the capstone of Civil Rights shall have been added to the crowning glory of impartial justice, we'll sound again the chorus of the Union in fuller and grander strains, and, throwing our banner o the breeze, we'll bid it float, unfettered and triumphant o'er North and South--from sea to gulf-- with nothing to cause us sadness in the present, or dim the brightness of our future.
And now, fellow citizens, by the memory of that glorious part which Oberlin played in the great drama of civil liberty and human right, by that record so clouded in calumny, but which stands upon the page of history to-day, beautified and glorified in the dazzling light of a higher civilization, and a purer Christianity; in the name of these recollections, we welcome you to this occasion, with its thronging host of memories reaching far back over the weary night of history out of which you have come; to the loyal devotion and noble purposes which this day inspires; to an exalted realization of our grand possibilities which the future has reserved for your race; to the estimable blessings which our age is voucheating to us as a people, we bid you welcome, and invoke the blessing and benediction of Him, in whose hand are the destinies of nations and of men.
At the conclusion of the address the exercises were adjourned to 1:30 P. M.
In the afternoon an audience that completely filled the First church gathered to hear the speakers that had been advertised. The band discoursed sweet music while the audience was gathering and at frequent intervals during the exercises. On the platform were the president, Mr. Cox, Rev. J. H. Fairchild, D. D., President of Oberlin College, G. G. Washburn, esq. of the Elyria Democrat, Mesars, Dyer, Chambers, Goosland, Henderson, and Adair, together with the orators of the occasion.
The meeting was called to order and Pres. Fairchild read selections of Scripture and offered prayer, after which the Fifteenth Amendment as read by Mr. B. F. Adair. Prof. J. M. Langston, of Howard University, Washington, D.C., was then introduced and delivered the following
Mr. President and friends:
I thank you for the invitation which brings me before you at this time to address you upon this most interesting occasion. I m not unmindful of the fact that I stand in the presence of instructors--eminently distinguished for the work which they have done in the cause of truth and humanity. Oberlin was a pioneer in the labor of abolition. It is foremost in the work of bringing about equality of the negro before the law. Thirty years ago, on the first day of March, it was my good fortune, a boy seeking n education, to see Oberlin for the first time. Here I discovered at once that I breathed a new atmosphere. Though poor and a colored boy, I found no obstruction made against me in your hotel, in your institution of learning, in your family circle. I come her to-day, with a heart full of gratitude, to say to you, in this public way, that I not only thank you for what you did for me individually, but for what you did for the cause whose success makes this day the colored American a citizen sustained in all the rights, privileges and immunities of American citizenship by law.
As out country advances in civilization, prosperity and happiness, cultivating things which appertain to literature, science, and law, may your Oberlin, as in the past, so in all the future, go forward cultivating a noble, patriotic, Christian leadership. In the name of the negro, so largely blest and benefited by your institution, I bid you a hearty God-sped.
Within less than a quarter of a century--within the last thirteen years, the colored American has been raised from the condition of four-footed beasts and creeping thins, to the level of enfranchised manhood. Within the period of the Slave Oligarchy of the land has been overthrown, and the nation itself emancipated from its barbarous rule. The compromise of 1850, including the Fugitive Slave law, together with the whole body of law enacted in the interest of slavery, then accepted as finalities, and the power of leading political parties pledged to their maintenance, have those parties, been utterly nullified and destroyed. In their stead we have a purified constitution, and legislation no longer constructed and enforced to sanction and support inhumanity and crime, but to sustain and perpetuate the freedom and the rights of us all.
Indeed, two nations have been born in a day. For the death of slavery, and through the change indicated, the colored American has been spoken in to the new life of liberty and law; while new, other and better purposes, aspirations and feelings, have possessed and moved the soul of his fellow countrymen. The moral atmosphere of the land is no longer that of slavery and hate; as far as he late slave, even, is concerned, it is largely that of freedom and fraternal appreciation.
Not forgetting the struggle and sacrifice of the people, the matchless courage and endurance of our soldiery, necessary to the salvation of Government and Union, our freedom and that reconstruction of sentiment and law essential to their support, it is eminently proper that we all leave our ordinary callings this day, to join in cordial commemoration of our emancipation, the triumph of a movement whose comprehensive results profit and bless without discrimination as to color or race.
It is no more interesting to the patriot than to the philanthropist, to trace the changes which have been made, during the last decade, in our legislation and law. Nor is there anything in these changes to cause regret or fear to the wise and sagacious lawyer or states man. This is particularly true since, in he changes made, we essay no novel experiments in legislation and law, but they are justified by principles drawn from the fountains of our jurisprudence, the Roman Civil, and the Common law. It has been truthfully stated that the common law has made no distinction on account of race or color. None is now made n England, or in any other Christian country of Europe. Nor is there any such distinction made, to my knowledge, in the whole body of the Roman civil law.
Among the changes that have been wrought in the law of our country, in order of importance and dignity, I would mention, first, that slavery abolished, not by State but National enactment, can never again, in the history of our country, be justified or defended on the ground that it is a municipal institution--the creature of State law. Henceforth, as our emancipation has been decreed by national declaration, our freedom is shielded and protected by the strong arm of National law. Go where we may, now, like the atmosphere about us, law protects us, in our locomotion, in our utterance and our pursuit of happiness. And to this leading and fundamental fact of the law, the people, and the various States of the Union, are adjusting themselves with grace and wisdom. It would be difficult to find a sane man in our country who would seriously advocated the abrogation of the 13th amendment to the Constitution.
In our emancipation, it is fixed by law that the place where we are born, is, ipso facto, our country; and this gives us domicil, a home. As in slavery we had no self ownership, nor interest in anything, external to ourselves, so we were without country and legal settlement. While slavery existed, even the free colored American was in no better condition; and hence exhortions [sic.], prompted in many instances by considerations of philanthropy and good-will, were not infrequently made to him to leave his native land, to seek residence and home elsewhere, in distant and inhospitable regions. These exhortions did not always pass unheeded, for eventually a national organization was formed, having for its sole purpose the transportation to Africa of such colored men as might desire to leave the land of their birth to find settlement in that country. And through the influence of the African Colonization Society, not a few, even, of our most energetic, enterprising, industrious, and able colored men, not to mention thousands of the humbler class, have been carried abroad.
It may be that, in the providence of God, these peitous, self-expatriated, may have been instrumental in building up a respectable and promising government in Liberia; and that those who have supported the Colonization Society have been philanthropically disposed, both as regards to the class transported, and the native African. It is still true, however, that the emancipated American has hitherto been driven, or compelled to consent to expatriation because denied legal home and settlement in the land of his nativity. Expatriation is no longer thus compelled; for it is now settled in the law, with respect to the colored as well as all other native born Americans, that the country of his birth, even this beautiful and goodly land, is his country. Nothing, therefore, appertaining to it, its rich and inexhaustible resources, its industry ad commerce, its education and religion, its law and government, the glory and perpetuity of its free institutions and union, can be without lively and pertinent interest to him, as to all others who, either by birth or adoption, legitimately claim it as their country.
With emancipation, then, comes also that which is dearer to the true patriot than life itself--country and home. And this doctrine of the law, in the broad and comprehensive applications explained, is now accepted without serious objection by leading jurists and statesmen.
The law has also forever determined, and to our advantage, that nativity, without any regard to nationality or complexion, settles, absolutely, the question of citizenship, predicated upon birth, could ever found place among the vexed questions of the law, certainly American law. We have only to read the, however, the official opinions given by leading and representative lawyers in slave holding times, to gain full knowledge of the existence of this fact. According to these opinions, our color, race and degradation, all or either, rendered the colored American incapable being or becoming a citizen of the United States. As early as November 7th, 1821, during the official term of President Monroe, the Hon. Wm. Writ, of Virginia, then acting Attorney-General of the United States, in answer to the question propounded by the Secretary of the Treasury, "whether free persons of color are, in Virginia, citizens of the United States so as to be qualified to command vessels," replied, saying that nativity in the case of the colored American does not give citizenship, according to the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. Mr. Writ concludes his opinion in these words, "Upon the whole, I am of the opinion that free persons of color, in Virginia, are not citizens of the United States, so as to be qualified to command vessels."
This subject was further discussed in 1843, when the Hon. Jno. C. Spencer, then Secretary of the Treasury, submitted to Hon. H. S. Legare, Attorney-General of the United States, in behalf of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, with request that his opinion be given thereon, "whether a free man of color, in the case presented, can be admitted to the privileges of a pre-emptioner under the Act of September 4, 1841. In answering this question, Mr. Legare held: "It is not necessary, in my view of the matter, to discuss the question of how far a free man of color may be a citizen in the highest sense of the word--that is one who enjoys in the fullest manner all the jura ciritatis under the Constitution of the United States. It is the plain meaning of the Act to give the right of pre-emption to all denizens; any foreigner who has filed his declaration of intention to become a citizen, is rendered at once capable of holding land." Continuing, he says: "Now, free people of color are no aliens; they enjoy universally, (while there has been no express statutory provision to the contrary,) the rights of denizens."
This opinion of the learned Attorney-General, while it admits the free man of color to the privileges of a pre-emptioner under the Act mentioned, places him legally in a nondescript condition, erroneously assuming, as we clearly understand to-day, that there are degrees and grades of American citizenship. These opinions accord well the dicta of the Dred Scott decision of which we have a lively remembrance.
But a change was wrought in the feeling and conviction of our country, as indicated in the election of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States. On the 22nd day of September, 1862, he issued his preliminary emancipation proclamation. On the 29th day of the following November, Salmon P. Chase, then Secretary of the Treasury, propounded to Edward Bates, the Attorney-General, the same question in substance which had been put to Wm. Writ, viz.: "Are colored men citizens of the United States, and therefore competent to command American vessels?" The reasoning and the conclusion reached by Edward Bates, were entirely different from that of his predecessor, Wm. Writ. Nor does Edward Bates leave the colored American in the anomalous condition of a "denizen." In his masterly an exhaustive opinion, credible alike to his ability and learning, his patriotism and philanthropy, he maintains that "free men of color, if born in the United States and if otherwise qualified, are competent, according to the acts of Congress, to be masters of vessels engages in the coasting trade."
When it is recollected that these broad propositions with regard to citizenship predicated upon nativity, and in the case of free colored men, were enunciated prior to the first day of January, 18--, before emancipation, before even the 13th amendment of the Constitution was adopted; when the law stood precisely as it was, when Writ and Legare gave their opinions, it must be conceded that Bates was not only thoroughly read in the law, but bold and sagacious. For these propositions have all passed, through the 14th Amendment, into the Constitution of the United States, and are sustained by a wise and well defined public judgment.
With freedom decreed by law, citizenship sanctioned and sustained thereby, the duty of allegiance on the one part, and the right of protection on the other, recognized and enforced, even if considerations of political necessity had not intervened, the gift of the ballot to the colored American could not have been long delayed. The 15th Amendment it the logical and legal consequences of the 13th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution. Considerations of political necessity, as indicated, no doubt hastened the adoption of this amendment. But in the progress of legal development in out country, consequent upon the triumph of the abolition movement, its coming was inevitable. And, therefore, as is legal necessity, as well as political, is recognized and admitted, opposition to it has well nigh disappeared. Indeed, so far from there being anything like general and organized opposition to the exercise of political powers by the enfranchised American, the people accept it as fit and natural fact.
Great as the change has been with regard to the legal status of the colored American, in his freedom, his enfranchisement, and the exercise of political powers, he is not yet given the full exercise and enjoyment of all the rights which appertain by law to American citizenship. Such as are still denied him; are withheld on the plea that their recognition would result in social equality; and his demand for them is met by considerations derived from individual and domestic opposition. Such reasoning is no more destitute of logic than law. While I hold that opinion sound, which does not accept mere prejudice and caprice, instead of the promptings of nature, guided by cultivated taste and wise judgment as the true basis of social recognition; and believing, too, that in a Christian community, social recognition may justly be pronounced a duty, I would not deal in this discussion with matters of society. I would justify the claim of the colored American to complete equality of rights and privileges upon well considered and accepted principles of law.
As showing the condition and treatment of the colored citizens of this country, anterior to the introduction of the Civil Rights Bill, so called, into the United States Senate, by the late Hon. Charles Sumner, I ask your attention to the following words from a letter written by him:
"I wish a bill carefully drawn, supplementary to the existing Civil Rights Law, by which all citizens shall be protected in equal rights:--
(1.) On railroads, steamboats and public
conveyances, being public carriers.
(2.) At all houses in the nature of "inns."
(3.) All licensed houses of public amusement.
(4.) At all common schools.
"Can you do this? I would follow as much as possible the language of the existing Civil Rights Law, and make the new bill supplementary."
It will be seen from this very clear and definite statement of the Senator, that in his judgment, in spite of, and contrary to common law rules applied in this case, certainly of all others, and recognize fully as settled, the colored citizen was denied these accomodations, facilities, advantages and privileges, furnished ordinary by common carriers, inn keepers, at public places of amusement and common schools; and which are so indispensable to rational and useful enjoyment of life, that without them citizenship itself loses much of its value, and liberty seems little more than a name.[...]
But Mr. President and friends, it ill becomes us to complain, we may not tarry to find fault. The change in public sentiment, the reform in our national legislation and jurisprudence, which we this day commemorate, transcendant (sic.) and admirable, augurs and guarantees to all American citizens complete equality before the law, in the protection and enjoyment of all those rights and privileges which pertain to manhood, enfranchised and dignified. To us, the 13th Amendment of our Constitution--abolishing slavery and perpetuating freedom--14th Amendment, establishing citizenship and prohibiting the enactment of any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, or which shall deny the equal protection of the laws to all Americans--and the 15th Amendment, which declares 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, are national utterances which not only recognize, but sustain and perpetuate our freedoms and rights. To the colored Americans, more than to all others.
Prof. Langston held the unbroken attention of his audience to the close. He was frequently interrupted by applause, and when he concluded, the expressions of approval were loud and protracted. Oberlin has long regarded him with with special affection and respect, and has watched his gradual but steady advancement in position and fame with feelings of pride and satisfaction. He has risen by sheer ability and work to the position he know occupies. Standing, as he does, at the head of Howard University, and in the foremost rank among the orators of the country, he is doing more, perhaps, than any other man in shaping the character and destiny of the colored race in the United States. The citizens of Oberlin, many of whom have known him from boyhood, rejoice in his past success and trust him for the future. He is now just in the prime of his life, and greater things yet may be expected from him.
The Hon. J. Strong of Oberlin, was next introduced and delivered the following able
Mr. President and Fellow Citizens:--
The struggle against oppression, in this country, has thus far been characterized by three distinct eras. Firs, we had the era of agitation; second we had the era of war; third, the era of reconstruction. They represent different periods of that same great movement, which was commenced by the pioneers of anti-slavery many years before our civil war.
The phenomena of thunder and lightning which accompany a violent storm, so thoroughly absorb our attention for the time being, that we are quite to apt to lose sight of the fact that they must be preceded by the silent process of evaporation. The former are results, and would not be, were it not for the latter. Out civil war, was but the thunderbolt which broke forth from the clouds which had been long and quietly gathering. It was the result of those deep and silent forces which had long been attracting the American brain and heart to the permeating influences of truth and love.
In reviewing the scene of the day, there does not occur to us anything that could have been greatly improved. The demonstration was made imposing, and must have impressed every beholder and listener with the importance of the colored race as a factor of the body politic of our nation. The men who originated this celebration and carried it out to a successful issue, an, indeed, all who took part in it, cannot feel otherwise than satisfied with the results. It is eminently proper that the colored men should celebrate the reification of the fifteenth Amendment, for it is the nation's acknowledgement that they are worthy of the place they have taken beside their white neighbor on the plane of a common manhood and a common citizenship. It only remains to remove the last vestige of the wrongs they have suffered, by giving them what they may justly demand, equal rights and privileges before the law. Let men be, henceforth, in the eye of the American law, no longer white or black, but simply American citizens.