Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

XXXIII
THE NEGRO PROBLEM AND THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT

THE problem of the negro has perplexed America since three centuries or more ago when the savages from Senegambia and the dark jungles of Central Africa were captured and brought here as slaves. It disturbed the counsels of the Constitutional Convention and was evaded; it was fumbled in the Compromise of 1820, and again three decades later. Through its agitation the Abolitionists brought on the War between the States, but never was it the cause of direr or more durable discord than in the dozen years that followed the collapse of the Confederacy.

Like any other question it was capable of analysis, it was susceptible of light as well as heat. Without passion it was open to an accurate appraisal, and such appraisals had been made before the Radicals began to act. But they were made by scientists, not by politicians purporting to be statesmen. Among Sumner's nearly limitless acquaintances was Louis Agassiz, distinguished in the field of science. "We should beware," in August, 1863, Agassiz had written, "how we give to the blacks rights, by virtue of which they may endanger the progress of the whites before their temper has been tested by prolonged experience. Social equality I deem at all times impracticable,--a natural impossibility from the very character of the negro race. . . . No man has a right to what he is unfit to use. Our own best rights have been acquired successively. I cannot, therefore, think it just or safe to grant at once to the negro all the privileges which we ourselves have acquired by long struggles. History teaches us what terrible reactions have followed too rapid and too extensive changes. Let us beware of granting too much to the negro race in the beginning lest it become necessary hereafter to deprive them of some of the privileges which they may use to their own and our detriment."1

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