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Equality Before the Law: Oration Delivered by Prof. J.M. Langston at the Fifteenth Amendment Celebration
Society have been  philanthropically        can satisfy the requisitions of age and
disposed,  both as  regards the class       residence, as well as the white man;
transported, and the native African.        and  if nativity, residence and allegi-
It is still true, however, that the eman-   ance combined,. (without the rights
cipated American has hitherto been          and privileges of a white man,) are
driven, or compelled to consent to ex-      sufficient to make him a citizen of the
patriation because denied legal home        United States, in the sense of the Con-
and settlement in the land  of his na-      stitution, then free negroes and mulat-
tivity.  Expatriation is no longer thus     toes are eligible to those high offices,"
compelled; for it is now settled in the     (of President, Senator or Representa-
law, with respect to the colored  as        tive,) "and may command the purse
well as all other native born Ameri-        and sword of the nation."  After able
cans, that the country of his birth,        and elaborate argument to show that
even this beautiful and goodly land, is     nativity in the case of the colored Ameri-
his country.  Nothing, therefore, ap-       can does not give citizenship, according
pertaining to it, its rich and inexhaust-   to the meaning of the Constitution of
ible resource, its industry and com-        the United States, Mr. Wirt concludes
merce, its education and religion, its law  his opinion in these words, "Upon the
and government, the glory and per-          whole, I am of the opinion that free
petuity of its free institutions  and       persons of color, in Virginia, are not
union, can be without lively and per-       citizens of the United States, within
manent interest to him, as to all others    the intent and  meaning of the acts
who, either by birth or adoption, legiti-   regulating foreign and coasting trade,
mately claim it as their country.           so as to be qualified to command ves-
  With emancipation, then, comes also       sels."
that which is dearer to the true pa-          "This subject was further discussed
triot than  life  itself-country  and       in 1843, when the Hon. Jno. C. Spen-
home.  And this doctrine of the law,        cer, then Secretary of the Treasury,
in the broad and comprehensive appli-       submitted to Hon. H. S. Legare, At-
cation explained, is now accepted with-     torney-General of the United States,
out serious objection by leading jurists    in behalf of the Commissioner of the
and statesmen.                              General Land Office, with request that
                                            his opinion be given thereon, "whether
      VEXED QUESTION OF THE LAW.            a free man of color, in the case pre-
  The law has also forever determined,      sented, can be admitted to the privi-
and  to our advantage, that nativity,       leges of a pre-emptioner under the
without any regard to nationality or        Act of September 4, 1841.  In answer-
complexion,  settles, absolutely,  the      ing this question, Mr. Legare held: "It
question of citizenship.  One can hard-     is not necessary, in my  view of the
ly understand how citizenship, predi-       matter, to discuss the question how far
cated upon  birth, could  have  ever        a free man of color may be a citizen in
found place among  the vexed ques-          the highest sense of that word--that is
tions of the law, certainly American        one who enjoys in the fullest manner
law.  We have only to read, however,        all the jura civitatis under the Consti-
the official opinions given by leading      tution of the United States.  It is the
and representative American lawyers,        plain meaning of the Act to give the
in slaveholding times, to gain  full        right of pre emption  to all denizens;
knowledge of the existence of this fact.    any foreigner who had filed his decla-
According to these opinions, our color,     ration of intention to become a citizen,
race and degradation, all or either, ren-   is rendered at once capable of holding
dered the colored American incapable        land."  Continuing, he says:  "Now,
being or becoming a citizen of the          free people of color are not aliens;
United States.  As early as November        they  enjoy universally, (while there
7th, 1821, during the official term of      has been no express statutory provision
President Monroe,  the  Hon.  Wm.           to the contrary,) the rights of deni-
Wirt, of Virginia, then acting as Attor-    zens."
ney-General of the United States, in          This opinion of the learned Attorney-
answer to the question propounded by        General, while it admits the free man
the Secretary of the Treasury, "wheth-      of color to the privileges of a pre-emp-
er free persons of color are, in Virginia,  tioner under the Act mentioned, places
citizens of the United States, within       him legally in a nondescript condition,
the intent and meaning of the Acts          erroneously assuming, as we clearly
regulating foreign and coasting trade,      understand to-day, that there are de-
so as to be qualified to command ves-       grees and grades of American citizen-
sels," replied, saying among other          ship. These opinions accord well with
things, "Free negroes and mulattoes         the dicta of the Dred Scott decision of
                                            which we have lively remembrance.


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Equality Before the Law: Oration Delivered by Prof. J.M. Langston at the Fifteenth Amendment Celebration



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