The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study

By W. E. B. Du Bois | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII.
NEGRO SUFFRAGE.

50. The Significance of the Experiment.-- The indiscriminate granting of universal suffrage to freedmen and foreigners was one of the most daring experiments of a too venturesome nation. In the case of the Negro its only justification was that the ballot might serve as a weapon of defence for helpless ex-slaves, and would at one stroke enfranchise those Negroes whose education and standing entitled them to a voice in the government. There can be no doubt but that the wisest provision would have been an educational and property qualification impartially enforced against ex-slaves and immigrants. In the absence of such a provision it was certainly more just to admit the untrained and ignorant than to bar out all Negroes in spite of their qualifications; more just, but also more dangerous.

Those who from time to time have discussed the results of this experiment have usually looked. for their facts in the wrong place, i. e., in the South. Under the peculiar conditions still prevailing in the South no fair trial of the Negro voter could have been made. The "carpet-bag" governments of reconstruction time were in no true sense the creatures of Negro voters, nor is there to-day a Southern State where free untrammeled Negro suffrage prevails. It is then to Northern communities that one must turn to study the Negro as a voter, and the result of the experiment in Pennsylvania while not decisive is certainly instructive.

51. The History of Negro Suffrage in Pennsylvania.-- The laws for Pennsylvania agreed upon in England in 1682 declared as qualified electors "every inhabitant in the said province, that is or shall be a purchaser of one

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