Article 4, Section 2, Clause 1

[Volume 4, Page 493]

Document 14

William Eustis, Admission of Missouri, House of Representatives

12 Dec. 1820Annals 37:635--38

I am one of those who had hoped that the discussion of this question might have been avoided. But it is upon us, and we must meet and decide it. With gentlemen who have preceded me, I perfectly agree, that the only question to be determined is, whether that article in the constitution of Missouri, making it the duty of the Legislature to provide by law "that free negroes and mulattoes shall not be admitted into that State," is, or is not, repugnant to that clause in the Constitution of the United States, which declares "that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States." This question has been fairly met. Those who contend that the article is not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States ground themselves on the position that blacks and mulattoes are not citizens of the United States and have repeatedly referred to the condition of those in Massachusetts to support the assertion. Now, sir, I invite the honorable member from Delaware, who has lately addressed you, with the honorable member from Virginia, who, in his address to the Committee of the Whole, on Friday last, maintained the same position, to go with me and examine the question to its root.

At the commencement of the Revolutionary war, there were found in the Middle and Northern States, many blacks and other people of color, capable of bearing arms; a part of them free, the greater part slaves. The freemen entered our ranks with the whites. The time of those who were slaves was purchased by the States, and they were induced to enter the service in consequence of a law by which, on condition of their serving in the ranks during the war, they were made freemen. In Rhode Island, where their numbers were more considerable, they were formed, under the same considerations, into a regiment commanded by white officers; and it is required, in justice to them, to add, that they discharged their duty with zeal and fidelity. The gallant defence of Red Bank, in which this black regiment bore a part, is among the proofs of their valor.

Among the traits which distinguished this regiment, was their devotion to their officers; when their brave Colonel Greene was afterwards cut down and mortally wounded, the sabres of the enemy reached his body only through the limbs of his faithful guard of blacks, who hovered over [Volume 4, Page 494] him and protected him, every one of whom was killed, and whom he was not ashamed to call his children. The services of this description of men in the navy are also well known. I should not have mentioned either, but for the information of the gentleman from Delaware, whom I understood to say that he did not know that they had served in any considerable numbers.

The war over and peace restored, these men returned to their respective States. And who could have said to them, on their return to civil life after having shed their blood, in common with the whites, in the defence of the liberties of the country, You are not to participate in the rights secured by the struggle, or in the liberty for which you have been fighting? Certainly, no white man in Massachusetts.

The gentleman from Virginia says he must not be told that the term, we the people, in the preamble to the Constitution, means, or includes, Indians, free negroes, mulattoes. If it shall be made to appear that persons of this description, citizens at the time, were parties to, and formed an integral part of that compact, it follows, incontestably, that they are and must be included in it. To justify the inference of gentlemen, the preamble ought to read, We the white people. This was impossible; the members of the convention who formed that constitution, from the Middle and Northern States, could never have consented, knowing that there were in those States many thousands of people of color, who had rights under it. They were free--free from their masters? Yes, in the first instance; they also became freemen of the State, and were admitted to all the rights and privileges of white citizens. Was this admission merely nominal? This is answered by the fact that they did enjoy and did exercise the rights of free citizens, and have continued to exercise them, from the peace of 1783 to this day. It has been contended that they are not citizens, because they have been deprived, by a law of Massachusetts, of a part of their civil rights, and in proof, is stated the law forbidding the marriage of a black man with a white woman. The same law, sir, interdicts the marriage of a white man with a black woman. The law, then, applies equally to both, and cannot justify the inference which has been drawn from it. But, if the black man ceased to be a citizen because he had lost this civil right, as contended for by the gentleman from Virginia, the white man also must be determined not to be a citizen, and the State of Missouri would have an equal right to exclude him. Again, sir, the exclusion of the blacks from the ranks of the militia is adduced as another instance of their privation of a civil right. Without dwelling on the well-known fact that militia duty in Massachusetts is a heavy duty, an exemption from which is considered a favor, and that several other descriptions of citizens are also exempted; and admitting that the blacks are interdicted, while others are only exempted from this duty, what is proved by quoting these laws? They prove that they were in the actual enjoyment of these rights, and that a specific law became necessary to deprive them of them. Admitting that the State had a right to pass these laws, and that this description of citizens are curtailed in their exercise of a part of their privileges, what rights are left to them, and what rights do they continue to enjoy and exercise? We answer, all the broad and essential rights of citizens--the right, in common with the whites, to hold real and personal estate; the right of course to hold and convey land; the right of trial by jury; the right to the writ of habeas corpus; and, in this Government, the all-important right of the elective franchise; and it may be safely affirmed, that, by the laws and constitution of Massachusetts, they were considered as citizens equally with the whites.

It has been justly observed on this subject, by a gentleman on the other side, that facts and practice are better than theory. Here, then, we offer incontrovertible facts, proving, not from theory, but from actual and long continued practice, that black men and mulattoes, in Massachusetts at least, are citizens, having civil and political rights, in common with the whites. If we are asked for evidence of their being in the exercise of these rights, it is answered, that a knowledge of the history and practice of the State for more than forty years past, will show that they have been in the constant exercise of them. To vote in the election of town, county, and State officers, the same qualifications of residence and property are required from them, as from the whites, and, having these qualifications, they have a voice in the election of all State officers. Again, it is particularly affirmed, by the honorable member from Delaware, that this description of persons, whatever right they may have in the several States, have no federal rights, and cannot be considered as citizens of the United States. I had thought, with the honorable member from Pennsylvania, that the question "who were citizens?" was merged and decided by the adoption of the Federal Constitution.

By whom, and for whose use and benefit, was the Constitution formed? By the people, and for the people, inhabiting the several States. Did the Convention who formed it go into the consideration of the character or complexion of the citizens included in the compact? No, sir; they necessarily considered all those as citizens who were acknowledged as such at the time by the constitutions of the States.

Independent of all reasoning, presumption, or theory, we proceed to state facts which prove incontrovertibly their federal rights. I confine my observations to Massachusetts, because the practice in that State is within my own personal knowledge and observation. In that State, sir, the citizens in question constituted, and were in fact an elementary part of the Federal compact. They were as directly represented as the whites, in the initiatory process; and, from their votes, in common with those of the whites, emanated the convention of Massachusetts, by whom the Federal Constitution was received and ratified. Is not this proof? Is it not demonstration that they are entitled to, that they hold and exercise federal rights in common with the other citizens? If a doubt remained, it is answered by another equally important fact. They are also represented, not circuitously and indirectly, but directly, in this House. I very much doubt, sir, if there be a member on this floor from any one district in Massachusetts, whose election does not partake of the votes of these people. In the district which I have the honor to represent, their number, compared with that of the white population, is not great; [Volume 4, Page 495] but, in an adjoining district, their number of qualified voters have been sufficient, and have actually turned the election of a member of this House.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 4, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 14
The University of Chicago Press

Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.

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