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Rock the Vote

NAAAS & Affiliates 27th Joint National Conference

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(1880) P.B.S. Pinchback, “Campaign Speech for GOP Presidential Candidate James G. Garfield."

Image Ownership: Public Domain
Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, the son of a white Mississippi planter and a former slave, was the first African American to serve as governor of a state when after the governor of Louisiana was impeached, he as Lt. Governor completed the 34 days left in his term (December 9, 1872 to January 12, 1873).  Despite that short tenure, Pinchback nonetheless was the highest ranking black officeholder at the state level until 1989 when L. Douglas Wilder won the governorship of Virginia.   As such Pinchback was a highly sought after speaker who rallied African American voters for the Republican Party.  In this speech below, given in Indianapolis, Indiana, he campaigns for GOP presidential candidate James G. Garfield.   
I SHALL NOT DWELL UPON the history of the war or attempt to detail its horrors and sum up its cost. I leave that task to others. If the wounds made by it have been healed, which I do not concede, far be it from my purpose to reopen them. My sole reason for referring to the war at all IS to remind the Northern people of some of the agencies employed in its successful prosecution.

When it commenced, the principal labor element of the South-the source of its production and wealth-was the colored race. Four millions and a half of these unfortunate people were there, slaves and property of the men who refused to submit to the will of the people lawfully expressed through the ballot box. They were the bone and sinew of the Confederacy, tilling its fields and producing sustenance for its armies, while many of the best men of the North were compelled to abandon Northern fields to shoulder a musket in defense of the Union.

As a war measure and to deprive the South of such a great advantage, your president, the immortal Lincoln, issued a proclamation in September, 1862, in which he gave public notice that it was his purpose to declare the emancipation of the slaves in the States wherein insurrection existed on January I, 1863, unless the offenders therein lay down their arms. That notice, thank God, was disregarded, and the proclamation of January I, 1863, proclaiming universal emancipation followed. Had the requirements of the first proclamation been observed by the people to whom it was addressed who can doubt what would have been the fate of the colored people in the South? It is reasonable to assume, inasmuch as the war was waged to perpetuate the Union and not to destroy slavery-that they would have remained in hopeless bondage.

On more than one occasion President Lincoln officially declared that he would save the Union with slavery if he could, and not until it became manifest that slavery was the mainstay of the Confederacy, and the prosecution of the war to a successful close would be difficult without its destruction, did he dare touch it. I do not think that President Lincoln's hesitancy to act upon the question arose from sympathy with the accursed institution, for I believe every pulsation of his heart was honest and pure and that he was an ardent and devoted lover of universal liberty; but he doubted whether his own people would approve of his interference with it. Assured by the manner in which the people of the North received his first proclamation that they appreciated the necessity of destroying this great aid of the enemy, he went forward bravely declaring that, "possibly for every drop of blood drawn by the lash one might have to be drawn by the sword, but if so, as was said over eighteen hundred years ago, the judgments of the Lord are just and righteous altogether," and abolished human slavery from the land forever.

That this great act was a Godsend and an immeasurable blessing to the colored race, I admit, but I declare in the same breath that it was dictated and performed more in the interest of the white people of the North and to aid them in conquering the rebellion than from love of or a disposition to help the Negro…


Josh Gottheimer ed., Ripples of Hope, Great American Civil Rights Speeches (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2003).
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