An informal meeting of the members of the Legislature and State officials took place at the Governor’s Mansion, last Friday night, and was finally resolved into a convention of congratulation upon the final passage and signing by the Governor of the civil rights bill.
After some appropriate preparations Senator Warner proposed the sentiment: “The Republican party,” and it was greeted with applause, and Gov. Powers was loudly called for.
SPEECH OF GOV. POWERS.
The following is a brief outline of his remarks, which were delivered with great earnestness and interrupted by frequent applause:
GENTLEMEN: The sentiment to which I am called to respond involves a very comprehensive subject. I cannot hope to exhaust it in a single speech; nor would I attempt to tax your patience by giving more than an outline of what its importance implies. A full response to this proposed sentiment would involve the origin and history of the Republican party, what it has done and suffered, and what it proposes still to do. Fifty speeches would be inadequate to this task, and a dozen volumes would not contain them. I will only remark that the truthful historian, in completing the record of the party, will be forced to the conclusion that it had its origin in the patriotic devotion which the American people have felt toward this great nation. The main-spring and watchword of the party have always been devotion to the Union, to justice, and to freedom. First put on trial when impious treason clutched the pillars of the Government, and profane voices mocked the power, and soiled hands rent the flag that made us a great people, it accepted the terrible gage of fratricidal war, and pursued it until victory crowned the national arms, and freedom was established upon a deeper and more enduring basis.
It was not alone the patriotic and just principles of the Republican party that purified and elevated the Government under the fiery ordeal of war, but party success was in a great degree due to the efforts of the great and good men who were its leading spirits, and through whose integrity, ability, and devotion the victory was won. The immortal Lincoln was the grand central figure. Pure and lofty in character, sound in judgment, and possessed of a sympathetic heart that responded to the cries of oppressed humanity everywhere, he fully comprehended the situation and reflected the popular will. Surrounding him as counselors and co-laborers, were the great War Minister Stanton, the great Secretary Wm. H. Seward, the great Statesman, who died while the contest seemed yet uncertain, Stephen A. Douglas, and the great journalist, Horace Greeley. These were among the inspiring spirits, these the great lives that upheld the party and were finally sacrificed upon the altar of country. The voice of detraction and slander that assailed them while they were yet the active, moving spirits of the nation’s life, and the unswerving upholders of the nation’s honor, is now hushed. Rising out of the gloom of the immediate past, their characters are indelibly impressed upon the country, and their virtues will shine more transplendently as time advances.
It is objected that Douglas was not a Republican. I reply that he was imbued with Republican patriotism, and his name, so often and so closely associated in life with that of Lincoln, should not be separated from it in history. Were he living to-day he would stand with Dix and with Grant.
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It was the confidence inspired by the pure and upright founders and the patriotic leaders and upholders of the Republican party that drew to it the support of the people and enabled it to save the nation and extend liberty. It is now in the zenith of its power and usefulness.
At the South its organization dates only from the close of the war. As you well know, in some of the States it has fallen under bad leadership and has been disgraced. The purity of its principles has been polluted by the touch of unscrupulous and corrupt men, who have assumed the attractive livery of Republicanism in order to subserve the vilest purposes that ever disgraced a free and enlightened people.
But, thank heaven, the party is possessed of virtue enough to punish its betrayers and those who would make it a cloak to cover up infamous actions. Warmoth, pursued by the avenging spirit of the deluded followers whom he had led to the verge of ruin, has been glad to take refuge in the ranks of the opposition; and our own un-swan-like Swan rests uneasily to-night in a criminal’s cell.
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The wisdom, integrity, and sagacity of the representative men of the party have preserved Mississippi from falling into the excesses which have disgraced and well-nigh ruined some of her sister States. I have no doubt but that the rule of patriotic action which has controlled your labors in the past will be adhered to in the future. During the past three years I have been a close observer of all that has transpired, and I have seen very little to condemn. I know of no reason why any Mississippi Republican should hang his head in shame on account of the conduct of his party; on the contrary, I see very much that has been accomplished of which we may all feel proud. Most of you, gentlemen, will soon return to your constituents, and I know you are desirous of retaining their confidence and feel deserving of their good opinion. More than this, you have a commendable pride in trying to so regulate your actions as to close the mouths even of the opposition, which is continually ready on the smallest pretext to cast suspicion upon your conduct and undermine your good name. I believe you will disappoint those who are seeking provocation to condemn you, and that you will be neither led or driven into any measure intended to bring reproach upon the State.
The Governor then referred to some of the measures that would probably come before the Legislature, at its present session, and especially urged such action as would place the finances upon a sound currency basis; and insisted that something should be done toward developing the southern portion of the State. He said it was now slumbering in an almost unbroken forest – that we had fine harbors on the gulf, and should leave no effort untried to build up, there, a commercial city. Every bale of cotton that goes outside of the State to find a port, deprives us of ten dollars revenue, and to that extend enriches neighboring States. Having replied in a cursory way to the sentiment proposed by Senator Warner, he said he desired to call attention to another subject, and proceeded as follows:
GENTLEMEN: You were invited here to-night to witness the signing of what is denominated the civil rights bill. It was placed in my hand by the Joint Committee on Enrollment at 12 o’clock M. to-day. I have examined it carefully, and, while it is not in all respects just as I would have drawn it, it is a just measure and meets my approval. The security it is intended to give, and the rights it proposes to advance have been the subject of thought to me years ago. While reading the bill to-day, I recalled similar sentiments to those contained in it that were uttered by me in 1870. Without asking any credit for having so long ago expressed my own convictions upon the subject of civil rights, you will, perhaps, pardon me for reading a short extract from a speech delivered by me in the Senate in 1870, upon the subject of public education which was then under discussion. (Cries of “read,” “read.”)
After explaining that in the part of the speech alluded to he had been attempting to show the line of demarkation which existed between social equality and civil rights, Governor Powers read as follows:
“But, sir, the fact that men mingle together in business, ride together in the same car or steamboat, or sit together in the same convention or assembly, does not constitute them socially equal no more than it makes them morally or intellectually equal.
“I have no sympathy with the great outcry that is leveled against the rights of men, solely on the ground of color. I recognize different grades in society, and can understand why the pure, the intelligent, and virtuous should not be contaminated by association with the wicked, the low, and the vicious. I can see some reason for refusing to ride in the same car or steamboat, or for declining to sit in the same assembly with drunkards, gamblers, robbers, and murderers, but to refuse to come into such proximity with men because they happened to bear a different complexion from my own, would be to acknowledge a mean prejudice, unworthy of an age of intelligence.
“Sir, if there are those who believe that a man’s complexion, whether it be black, brown, red, or what not, can become a badge of disgrace which no endowment of God, no acquirement of art or science can wipe out, then those persons are welcome to the consolation which that belief affords. I can pity the narrow and dwarfed souls that cherish such prejudice, but I am not disposed to admit the delusion in my own heart. The time, I apprehend, has passed for estimating a man by the color of his skin rather than by the qualities of his heart, or the strength of his intellect. It is, at least, better in accord with the genius of our free institutions to leave the race of life open to all alike, and as our forefathers refused to recognize caste, based upon noble blood, so I am not inclined to assist in building up an aristocracy based upon color. While I am aware that the Caucasian race has furnished the highest types of moral, intellectual, and physical development, I believe it has also furnished examples of the greatest depravity, deformity, and ignorance. I am unwilling to say that crime is robbed of its enormity when committed by members of my own race, or that manly worth and exalted merit should not be recognized when found among people of a different ancestry.
“Sir, I have no anxiety about the social question. Justice and reason will, in due time, settle that, as well as all other questions involving the rights of men, to the satisfaction of all. The rapid march of events will soon bring us the solution; for, with all we can say or do, we are scarcely more than spectators of the grand revolution rolling over us.
“The revolution that has elevated four and a half millions of slaves to the dignity of citizenship, and placed almost within their hands the destinies of the mightiest and most noble Government on earth, will not cease until their rights are recognized, and they have assumed their proper place in society. Those who are most interested in this question, can best afford to await its solution. The time of waiting will not be long. The passage of this bill will hasten it, by opening the way whereby the truths of science and religion can gain access to the understanding of the people, and thereby raise them superior to their passions and prejudices, into the purer atmosphere of reason and truth.”
Governor Powers then concluded as follows:
I believed and said thus publicly, in 1871, that “Justice and reason would, in due time, settle all questions involving the rights of men, to the satisfaction of all.” The rights claimed under the bill before me are nothing more nor less than common law rights that belong to every American citizen. The common law knows no caste or color; it only knows freemen, and it guarantees to all equality of rights.
This bill creates or recognizes no rights not already established as common law; it only prescribes different penalties for their infringement. And if, in this respect, it seems to be harsh, time will soon mark the modifications which justice seems to demand.
Popular prejudice, in 1870, denied the rights to the colored people, which public sentiment, to-day, is ready to concede. “Justice and reason” have taken a stronger hold upon men; passion and prejudice having, in a great degree, subsided, this law – which would, three years ago, have excited strong opposition – will now be met with a degree of favor which will render it, as I firmly believe, not difficult of execution.
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Personally, I do not attach very great importance to this measure. It only marks an advance step in the history of legislation; it is a recognition upon the statute books of the State more fully, rights which were already secure the moment slavery was abolished and former slaves became citizens of the Republic. The colored people attach importance to it because it is the first time in the history of Mississippi that civil rights have been the subject of statutory enactment, and they see in it an abatement of unjust and oppressive discriminations. On this latter account I have invited you to be present, to witness the signing of the bill.
SIGNING THE BILL.
The bill was then signed, and Gov. Powers, in a few appropriate remarks, presented the pen to Capt. Carter, whom he complimented for the energy and perseverance which he had displayed in bringing it forward and laboring through evil and good report to procure its final passage. “The bill having been duly passed and approved, I need not assure you, gentlemen, that I will see it faithfully executed.” [Applause, and Capt. Carter was loudly called for.]
SPEECH OF HON. H. C. CARTER.
GENTLEMEN: This is, indeed, the proudest moment of my life, and after receiving from the hands of the Governor the pen with which he signed the bill that places all men upon an equal footing, I cannot find words to express the feelings of my heart. When I received the nomination for the Legislature from the county of Warren, I promised my constituents that this bill should be passed before the end of my term, and by the assistance of those true and tried friends of Republicanism now in the Legislature of the State of Mississippi, I am at present enabled to say that I have kept my word. Most prominent among those who have aided in the accomplishment of this great act of justice stands the much despised carpet-bagger. I wear them in my heart of hearts. I can never forget that when I left the State of Mississippi, in 1862, to join the Federal army – I can never forget that in that army I found all carpet-baggers. We have cause to feel grateful to them, and particularly to feel grateful to those who remained here to help us fight down an unjust prejudice and to achieve the great moral and political victory that we are here to-night to ratify. To our staunch friends, the Southern Republicans, who have stood up manfully in this struggle for civil rights for the down-trodden negro, I – to those Southern Republicans of the State of Mississippi – extend my heartfelt thanks.
I feel that my work is done, and that, having kept my pledge, I can return home, and at the close of the present session of the Legislature, when I go back to Warren county, I shall turn my attention from politics and engage in some commercial business, for which I feel I am better fitted than for law-making.
In conclusion, gentlemen, I will say that the grand old Republican party of the State of Mississippi, presenting as it does an unbroken front, will in the campaign of next fall again march on to victory.
Gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.
SPEECH OF HON. A. K. DAVIS.
Hon. A. K. Davis, of Noxubee, was then called upon and responded as follows:
GENTLEMEN: I thank you for having called upon me. As you have been listening to so many that are more able to entertain you than myself, it is a piece of superogation upon my part to attempt to address you at all. I do congratulate the Governor upon his good fortune; I congratulate him upon having the opportunity of signing a bill which was as much desired by a large majority of the people of this State as the Magna Charta was by the people of England. I regret, as well as that large class does which the bill is intended to protect, that the necessity does exist, and we have met its demands by the passing of this act.
Under the new order of things, created by the war, this bill is as necessary as was the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States. I regard his Excellency, the Governor, as being exceedingly fortunate to have the honor of signing this measure. I am certain that there is not a Republican in this State who would not, if placed in his Excellency’s position, esteem it as one of the most pleasing duties of his office to have the honor of signing this latest act of justice to a hitherto proscribed and persecuted class of citizens. This little bill, gentlemen, which to-night becomes a law of this State, is the “capsheaf” of Republican achievements. Henceforth we are to have no proscribed classes in Mississippi. Freedom, full, broad, and unconditional, is to be the recognized right of every citizen, without regard to birth or complexion. While I heartily agree with his Excellency in his remarks concerning the many achievements of the Republican party, I will not weary your patience by recounting the steps of that party in reaching the point which the State of Mississippi will ever have the honor of being the first to attain.
Again, gentlemen, allow me to thank you for the courtesy extended to me, and at the same time to express the wish that when we return home to our constituents they may be able to say to us, each and every one of us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servants.”
After more congratulations and expressing of regard on the part of the gentlemen, the meeting broke up, all being perfectly satisfied with the proceedings. –Miss. Pilot.