As a delegate to the National Republican Convention of 1900, I was honored by my delegation with being selected to represent Mississippi on the Committee on Platform and Resolutions; and by the chairman of that committee, Senator Fairbanks, I was made a member of the sub-committee that drafted the platform. At the first meeting of the sub-committee, the Ohio member, Senator J.B. Foraker, submitted the draft of a platform that had been prepared at Washington which was made the basis of quite a lengthy and interesting discussion. This discussion developed the fact that the Washington draft was not at all satisfactory to a majority of the sub-committee. The New York member, Hon. L.E. Quigg, was especially pronounced in his objections, not so much to what was declared, but to the manner and form in which the declarations were made. In his opinion, the principles of the party were not set forth in the Washington draft in language that would make them clearly understood and easily comprehended by the reading public. After every member who desired to speak had done so, it was agreed that those who desired amendments, changes, or additions should submit the same in writing, and that these with the Washington draft be turned over to Mr. Quigg as a sub-committee of one. A platform in harmony with the views expressed by members of the committee would then be carefully prepared, and the same submitted to the sub-committee at an adjourned meeting to be held at an early hour the next morning.
The only amendment suggested by me was one, the purpose of which was to express more clearly the attitude of the party with reference to the enforcement of the war amendments to the National Constitution. When the sub-committee met the next morning Mr. Quigg submitted an entirely new draft, which he had prepared the afternoon and night before, using the Washington draft and the amendments submitted by members of the sub-committee as the basis of what he had done. His draft proved to be so satisfactory to the sub-committee that it was accepted and adopted with very slight modifications. Mr. Quigg seemed to have been very careful in the preparation of his draft, not only giving expression to the views of the sub-committee, which had been developed in the discussion, and as had been set forth in the suggested amendments referred to him, but the manner and form of expression used by him impressed the committee as being a decided improvement upon the Washington draft, although the subject matter in both drafts was substantially the same. Mr. Quigg's draft, with very slight changes and alterations, was not only accepted and adopted, but he was the recipient of the thanks of the other members for the excellent manner in which he had discharged the important duty that had been assigned him.
The full committee was then convened by which the unanimous report of the sub-committee was adopted without opposition and without change. But I had anticipated a renewal of the effort to change the basis of representation in future National Republican Conventions, and had, therefore, made some little mental preparation to take a leading part in opposition to its adoption. Such a proposition had been submitted at nearly every National Convention of the party since 1884. That a similar effort would be made at this convention I had good reasons to believe. In this I was not mistaken. It was introduced by Senator Quay, of Pennsylvania. His proposition, like the others, was that in the future delegates to the National Convention should be apportioned among the different States upon the basis of the votes polled for the party candidates at the last preceding national election, instead of upon the basis of the States' representation in Congress. On the first view this proposition seems to be both reasonable and fair, but it cannot stand the test of an intelligent analysis. As soon as I sought and secured the recognition of the chair, I offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute, declaring it to be the judgment of the party that in all States in which there had been an evasion of the Fifteenth Amendment by State action, that there should be a reduction in the representation in Congress from such State or States in the manner and for the purpose expressed in the Fourteenth Amendment. A point of order was immediately made against the amendment, but the occupant of the chair, Senator Lodge, stated that he would hold his decision in reserve pending an explanation by me of the amendment I had submitted. At that time a suggestion was made that the whole subject be postponed until the next day, to which I assented, and then yielded the floor. But it was not again called up, hence my speech was never delivered. Since it may be of some interest to the reader to get an idea of what I had in mind, I shall here set down in the main what I intended to say on that occasion had the opportunity been presented.
"Mr. Chairman, while there may be some doubt, in a parliamentary sense, as to whether or not the amendment I have submitted can be entertained as a substitute for the original proposition, it cannot be denied that it relates to the same subject matter. I hope, therefore, that the Convention will have an opportunity in some way of voting upon it in lieu of the one that has been presented by the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania. It is a well-known fact that under the present system each State is entitled to double the number of delegates that it has Senators and Representatives in Congress. The plan now proposed is that the apportionment in future conventions be based upon the number of votes polled for the candidates of the party at the last preceding National election, according to what is known as the 'official returns,' although it may be a fact, as is unquestionably true in some States, that the 'official returns' may not be free from fraud,—that they may represent in some instances not the actual party vote polled, but the party vote counted, certified, and returned. This plan, therefore, means that representation from some States in future National Republican Conventions will not be based upon Republican strength, nor determined by Republican votes, but will be fixed and determined by Democratic election officials. In other words, Democrats, and not Republicans, will fix and determine in a large measure, representation in future Conventions of the Republican party.
"The proposed change is predicated upon the assumption that elections are fair and returns are honest in all the States at each and every National election. If that were true the difference in the representation from the several States would be unimportant and immaterial, even under the proposed change, hence there would be no occasion for the change. The fact that this assumption is not true furnishes the basis for the alleged inequality in representation, and the apparent necessity for the change proposed. In addition to this it is a well-known fact that in several of the Southern States,—my own, Mississippi, among the number,—the Fifteenth Amendment to the National Constitution has been practically nullified, and that the colored men in such States have been as effectually disfranchised as if the Fifteenth Amendment were not a part of the organic law of the land. If the plan that is now proposed by the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania should be adopted, the National Republican party by accepting them and making them the basis of representation in future National Conventions of the party will have thereby placed itself on record as having given its sanction to the questionable methods by which these results have been accomplished. I frankly confess that the plan I have presented is based upon the humiliating confession that the Government is without power under the Constitution as construed by the Supreme Court to effectually enforce the war amendments; and that in consequence thereof nothing is left to be done but to fall back upon the plan prescribed by the Fourteenth Amendment, which is to reduce the representation in Congress from such States in the manner and for the purposes therein stated.
"It is true that the Fourteenth Amendment having been proposed and submitted prior to the Fifteenth, the provision with reference to reduction of representation in Congress was predicated upon the assumption that the different States could then legally make race or color a ground of discrimination in prescribing the qualification of electors. Still, it occurs to me that if a State could be thus punished for doing that which it had a legal right to do, the same punishment can now be inflicted for doing that which it can no longer legally do. If the plan proposed by the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania should be adopted, the Republican party will not only have placed itself on record as having given its sanction to the methods by which these results will have been accomplished, but it will be notice to the different States, north as well as south, that any of them that may see fit to take advantage of their own wrongs will have no occasion to fear any future punishment being inflicted upon the State for so doing. Under the plan thus proposed the State that may thus take advantage of its own wrongs will not only receive no punishment in the reduction of its representation in Congress, but its methods and practices will have been approved and adopted by the Republican party.
"On the other hand, the plan I propose is one which is equivalent to a notice to the different States that, while the National Government may not be able to enforce by appropriate legislation the war amendments to the Constitution, the Legislative department of the Government can prevent a State from taking advantage of its own wrongs, through the infliction of a punishment upon the State in the reduction of its representation in Congress. Since representation in the National Convention is based upon the States' representation in Congress, it will be seen that if the representation in Congress from such States should be reduced, it would result in a reduction in the representation from such States in the National Convention. The main purpose, therefore, which the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania seems to have in view will have been practically accomplished, but in a far different and in a much less objectionable way. It will be some satisfaction to southern Republicans, who are denied access to the ballot-box through an evasion of the National Constitution, to know that if they are to be denied a voice in future National Conventions of the party to which they belong, because they are unable to make their votes effective at the ballot-box, the party or State by which they are thus wronged will not be allowed to take advantage of, and enjoy the fruits thereof. They will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that if they cannot vote themselves, others cannot vote for them, and thus appropriate to themselves the increased representation in Congress and in the electoral college to which the State is entitled, based upon their representative strength.
"The strongest point in favor of this proposed change, as I have endeavored to show, grows out of the apparent inequality in representation in the National Convention due to the denial of access to the ballot-box to Republicans through an evasion of the Fifteenth Amendment. I cannot believe, Mr. Chairman, that this convention can be induced to favorably consider any proposition, the effect of which will be to sanction and approve the questionable methods by which the colored Republicans in several Southern States have been disfranchised. I cannot believe that this convention can be induced to favorably consider any proposition, the effect of which will be the sending of a message of sympathy and encouragement to the Democrats of North Carolina, who are now engaged in an effort to disfranchise the colored Republicans of that State.
"The colored Americans ask no special favors as a class,—and no special protection as a race. All they ask and insist upon is equal civil and political rights, and a voice in the government under which they live, and to which they owe allegiance, and for the support of which they are taxed. They feel that they are entitled to such consideration and treatment, not as a matter of favor but as a matter of right. They came to the rescue of their country when its flag was trailing in the dust of treason and rebellion, and freely watered the tree of liberty with the precious and patriotic blood that flowed from their loyal veins.
"There sits upon the floor of this convention to-day a distinguished gentleman whose name is upon the lips of every patriotic American citizen. The gentleman to whom I refer, is the member from the great and important State of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, who, as the brave leader of the American troops, led the charge upon San Juan Hill. In following the lead of that gallant officer on that momentous occasion, the colored American again vindicated his right to a voice in the government of his country. In his devotion to the cause of liberty and justice the colored American has shown that he was not only willing and ready at any and all times to sacrifice his life upon the altar of his own country, but that he is also willing to fight side by side with his white American brother in an effort to plant the tree of liberty upon a foreign soil. Must it now be said, that, in spite of all this, the colored American finds himself without a home, without a country, without friends, and even without a party? God forbid!
"Mr. Chairman, the colored American has been taught to believe that when all other parties and organizations are against him, he can always look with hope and encouragement to conventions of the Republican party. Must that hope now be destroyed? Must he now be made to feel and to realize the unpleasant fact that, as an American citizen, his ambition, his hopes and his aspirations are to be buried beneath the sod of disappointment and despair? Mr. Chairman, the achievements of the Republican party as the friend and champion of equal civil and political rights for all classes of American citizens, constitute one of the most brilliant chapters in the history of that grand and magnificent organization. Must that chapter now be blotted out? Are you now prepared to confess that in these grand and glorious achievements the party made a grave mistake?
"It was a most beautiful and imposing scene that took place yesterday when a number of venerable men who took part in the organization of the Republican party, occupied seats upon the platform of this convention. The presence of those men brought to mind pleasant and agreeable recollections of the past. Until the Republican party was organized, the middle classes, the laboring people, the oppressed and the slave had no channel through which to reach the bar of public opinion. The Democratic party was controlled by the slave oligarchy of the South, whilst the Whig party had not the courage of its convictions. The Republican party came to the front with a determination to secure, if possible, freedom for the slave, liberty for the oppressed, and justice and fair play for all classes and races of our population. That its efforts in these directions have not been wholly in vain are among the most glorious and brilliant achievements that will constitute a most important part of the history of our country; for it had been the unmistakable determination of that party to make this beautiful country of ours in truth and in fact the land of the free and the home of the brave. Surely it is not your purpose now to reverse and undo any part of the grand and noble work that has been so successfully and so well done along these lines.
"And yet that is just what you will have done if you adopt the proposition presented by the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania. While I do not assert and cannot believe that such was or is the purpose and desire of the author of that proposition, yet no one that will give the matter careful consideration can fail to see that the effect of it will be to undo, in part at least, what the Republican party has accomplished since its organization. As a colored Republican, speaking in behalf of that class of our fellow citizens who honor and revere the Republican party for what it has accomplished in the past, I feel that I have a right to appeal to you not to cloud the magnificent record which this grand organization has made. So far as the colored man is concerned, you found him a slave; you have made him a free man. You found him a serf; you have made him a sovereign. You found him a dependent menial; you have made him a soldier. I therefore appeal to the members of this Convention, in the name of the history of the Republican party, and in behalf of justice and fair-play, to vote down this unjust, unfair, unwise and unnecessary proposition which has been presented by the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania."