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

         A CHANGE WROUGHT.                 upon the subject.
  But a change was wrought in the           (5.) "There are some who, abandon-
feeling and conviction of our country,     ing the untenable objection of color,
as indicated in the election of Abraham    still contend that no person descended
Lincoln, President of the United States.   from negroes of the African race, can be a
On the 22d day of September, 1862, he      citizen of the United States.  Here
issued his preliminary  emancipation       the objection is not color but race only.
proclamation.  On the 29th day of the      * * *  The  Constitution  certainly
following November, Salmon P. Chase,       does not forbid it, but is silent about
then Secretary of the Treasury, pro-       race as it is about color.
pounded to Edward Bates, then At-            (6.) "But it is said that African ne-
torney-General, the same question in       groes are a degraded race, and that all
substance which had been put in 1821,      who are tainted with that degradation
to Wm. Wirt, viz: "Are colored men         are forever disqualified for the func-
citizens of the United States, and there-  tions of citizenship.  I can hardly com-
fore competent to command American         prehend the thought of the absolute
vessels?" The reasoning and the con-       incompatibility of degradation and citi-
clusion reached by Edward Bates, were      zenship;  I thought that they often
entirely different from that of his pre-   went together.
decessor, Wm. Wirt.  Nor does Edward         (7.) "Our nationality was created,
Bates leave the colored American in        and our political government exists, by
the anomalous condition of a "denizen."    written law; and inasmuch as that law
In his masterly and exhaustive opinion,    does not exclude persons of that des-
creditable alike to his ability and learn- cent, and as its terms are manifestly
ing, his patriotism and philanthropy,      broad enough to include them, it fol-
he maintains that "free men of color,      lows, inevitably, that such persons,
if born in the United States, are citizens born in the country, must be citizens,
of the United States; and if otherwise     unless the fact of African descent be so
qualified, are competent, according to     incompatible with the fact of citizen-
the acts of Congress, to be masters of     ship that the two cannot exist together."
vessels engaged in the coasting trade."             14TH AMENDMENT.
In the course of his argument he says:     When it is recollected that these
  (1.) "In every civilized country the     broad propositions with regard to citi-
individual is born to duties and rights,   zenship predicated upon nativity, and
the duty of allegiance and the right to    in the case of free colored men, were
protection, and these are correlative      enunciated prior to the first day of
obligations, the one the price of the      January,  1863, before emancipation,
other, and they constitute the all-suffi-  before even the 13th amendment of
cient bond of union between the indi-      the Constitution was adopted; when
vidual and his country; and the country    the law stood precisely as it was, when
he is born in is, prima facie, his country.Wirt and Legare gave their opinions,
  (2.) "And our Constitution, in speak-    it must be conceded that Bates was not
ing of natural born citizens, uses no      only thoroughly read in the law, but
affirmative language to make  them         bold and sagacious.  For these pro-
such, but only recognizes and re-affirms   positions have all passed, through the
the universal principle, common to all     14th Amenement, into the Constitution
nations, and as old as political society,  of the United States, and are sustained
that the people born in the country do     by a wise and well defined public
constitute the nation, and, as individ-    judgment.
uals, are natural members of the body        15TH AMENDMENT AND THE BALLOT.
  (3.) "In the United States it is too     With freedom decreed by law, citi-
late to deny the political rights and      zenship sanctioned and sustained there-
obligations conferred and imposed by       by, the duty of allegiance on the one
nativity; for our laws do not pretend      part, and the right of protection on the
to create or enact them, but do assume     other, recognized and enforced, even it
and recognize them as things known to      considerations of political  necessity
all men, because pre-existent and nat-     had  not intervened, the gift of the
ural, and therefore things of which the    ballot to the colored American could
laws must take cognizance.                 not have been long delayed.  The 15th
  (4.) "It is strenuously insisted by      Amendment is the logical and legal
some that 'persons of color,' though       consequences  of the 13th and  14th
born in the country, are not capable       Amendments of the Constitution. Con-
of being citizens of the United States.    siderations of political necessity, as in-
As far as the Constitution is concerned,   dicated, no doubt hastened the adop-
this is a naked assumption; for the        tion of this amendment.  But in the
Constitution contains  not one  word       progress of legal development in our


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



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