When Congress convened in December 1868 a suffrage amendment was the most important issue before each house. Republicans considered African American voting rights an issue that could not be ignored and an essential protection for the freedmen, especially in the South. Yet political events in 1867 and 1868 dictated a moderate approach to the amendment. In 1867 Democratic victories in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, followed soon after that party’s triumph in California. Earlier in the year, Connecticut Republicans lost the governorship and retained only a slim lead in the legislature. In 1867 voters also defeated black suffrage referenda in Ohio, Kansas, and Minnesota. The failure to impeach President Andrew Johnson further weakened the Radical Republicans’ position, and moderates increased their strength in the party. Moderates dictated the choice of Ulysses S. Grant as the Republican nominee for president in 1868 and held the party’s plank on voting rights to a statement that read, “The guarantee by Congress of equal suffrage to all loyal men at the South was demanded by every consideration of public safety, gratitude, and of justice, and must be maintained; while the question of suffrage in all the loyal States properly belongs to the people of those States.” As many Americans considered suffrage regulation a state prerogative, this plank gave opponents of the Fifteenth Amendment grounds for their opposition. Chinese voting and naturalization also figured prominently in the Congressional debates, and the objections of Pacific Coast senators and representatives helped to defeat a far-reaching universal suffrage measure.[1]

Both moderate and radical Republicans were under pressure to achieve a measure guaranteeing at least black suffrage in the current, Fortieth Congress, before the Democrats made further inroads on the Republican majority and while sufficient Republican state legislatures existed to ratify the amendment. Moderates and radicals differed about how broad such a voting rights amendment ought to be, whether it should include protection against literacy tests, and whether it should specify the right to hold office as well as the right to vote. African American suffrage was distasteful to moderates; they feared Congress would frame an amendment that the states would reject. Still other Republicans wanted to avoid the issue of Chinese voting rights. During the amendment debates Radical Republicans, on the other hand, suggested a variety of plans, including suffrage without regard to race, religion, nativity, sex, or property, and suffrage without literacy tests or poll taxes. Democrats saw no need for a change in the status quo regarding the franchise. Some who spoke against the amendment criticized blacks’ capacity for citizenship, or, in attempts to discomfit the Republicans, argued that the Chinese would make just as good, or better, voters than African Americans.[2]

The moderates in Congress eventually overcame the Democrats’ delaying tactics, rejected the Radicals’ more liberal amendments, and adopted a limited measure aimed at giving only blacks the vote. The amendment that resulted from the intensive debates of January and February 1869, was framed in negative terms and stated simply, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The final Senate-House conference committee deleted the words “and hold office,” which had been part of the original Senate amendment. This omission increased the Radicals disappointment in the Fifteenth Amendment. More damaging to future black voting rights was the failure to forbid tests of suffrage other than race, thus paving the way for black disenfranchisement in the South through literacy tests, poll taxes, and other restrictions. Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment on February 26, 1869, and sent it to the states that same day. By March 30, 1870, twenty-nine of the thirty-seven states had ratified the amendment and it then became part of the Constitution. [3]

In the Senate, William M. Stewart of Nevada led the battle for the Fifteenth Amendment. Determined to achieve success, Massachusetts Representative George S. Boutwell presented to the House both a bill and an amendment. But the House soon rejected Boutwell’s bill on the grounds that what one bill could enact, another could take away. Many Republicans also thought Congress lacked the power to control voting rights by law; an amendment would acknowledge state control of suffrage regulations and thus stand a better chance of ratification. The Boutwell amendment read, “The right of any citizen of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of race, color, or previous condition of slavery of any citizen or class of citizens of the United States.” This version of the amendment included an enforcement section. Boutwell called his measure “necessary for the reorganization and pacification of the country,” and said, “if we secure to all the people of the country without distinction of race or color the privilege of the elective franchise, we have then established upon the broadest possible basis of republican equality, the institutions of the country both state and national.”[4]

Senator Stewart called the Fifteenth Amendment, “the culmination of a contest which has lasted for thirty years.” He declared the principle of black suffrage was “recognized by the good men of this nation,” and he said the new administration “should start on this high and noble principle that all men are free and equal, that they are really equal before the law.” Stewart’s measure, very close to the final version, read, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote, and hold office shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Throughout the debates, Stewart showed single-minded perseverance in the face of numerous substitute amendments, delaying tactics, all-night sessions, and temporary defeat. The senator had opposed black suffrage after the Civil War, but changed his position in response to Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies and Southern white resistance to the new status of African Americans. Stewart did not favor Chinese suffrage, however, and the Democrats made the most of his and other West coast Congressmen’s reluctance on this issue.[5]

In a speech on blacks’ fitness to vote, Democratic Senator Thomas A. Hendricks (Indiana) said, “The Senators from Oregon and California, I think, are all opposed to the
Political Cartoon
“Why the Nigger Is Not Fit to Vote”
(Courtesy of the California State Library)
Harper’s Weekly, October 24, 1868

Chinese voting; and I think the Senator from Nevada [Stewart] is; and why? I believe they said they were pagans; but they are not such pagans as we find in Africa. China is the original home of a civilization that the world honors to this day.” Were the Chinese “not prepared to give as intelligent a vote as the negro?” Hendricks inquired. In rebuttal, Stewart asked Hendricks if he was “in favor of naturalizing Chinese and pagans who acknowledged no allegiance to the Government of the United States?” The senator from Indiana professed not to understand why the Chinese should be denied the franchise unless it was because they were “in the way . . . of the State of Nevada and of party hopes in California.” But he said he would not wish to force the Chinese vote on Californians although Nevada was forcing the black vote on states that did not want it. Hendricks also complained that Congress was not acting in good faith in proposing a constitutional amendment because the Republican platform of 1868 had said the control of suffrage belonged to the states. Radical Republican Charles Sumner (Massachusetts) responded to this argument by saying, “I have never raised the question whether a State had the power to regulate the suffrage or not; but I insist that under the Constitution of the United States, conceding to every state the power to regulate suffrage, there is no power to establish an oligarchy of the skin; . . . I do insist that under the power of making regulations you cannot disfranchise a race, you cannot degrade the country, you cannot degrade the age.” In spite of Sumner’s lofty rhetoric, he played only a small part in the creation of the Fifteenth Amendment because he thought Congress should simply pass a law providing for African American suffrage. The suggestions he made concerning the amendment displeased the moderates and the Pacific Coast senators. Sumner thought so little of the Fifteenth Amendment that he was not even present at the final Senate roll call.[6]

The issue of Chinese voting rights arose again during the debate on moderate Republican Jacob Howard’s proposed amendment which read, “Citizens of the United States of African descent shall have the same right to vote and hold office in the States and Territories as other citizens . . .” Sumner immediately moved to amend the Michigan senator’s wording by adding, “And there shall be no discrimination in rights on account of race or color.” “If we are to have a constitutional amendment now,” Sumner declared, “I want to have it as complete as possible, so that it shall provide against any possible necessity of any amendment hereafter.” Radical Republican George F. Edmunds of Vermont agreed, saying, “we ought to put into the Constitution, if we are to put anything in, something which will be broader than one race, and be longer in its duration and application than any limited period of time.” But moderate Republican Orris S. Ferry (Connecticut) approved Michigan Senator Howard’s measure because “It meets and remedies the one existing evil with regard to which there is yet an omission in the Constitution . . . I think that when we propose to amend the Constitution, we should carry our actions just so far as the evil extends . . . and not project beyond that into theoretical amendments.” California Senator Cornelius Cole joined fellow Republicans from Oregon, George H. Williams and Henry W. Corbett, in favoring the Howard amendment. Cole welcomed limiting suffrage to citizens of African descent because “It will effectually leave out the question of the subject of the Chinese immigration which has excited so much feeling on the part of Senators not from the Pacific coast.” Cole denied being apprehensive himself about “any great difficulty arising from that source,” as the Chinese did not come to the Pacific Coast with the intention of becoming citizens. Howard’s proposal was entirely different from those that included the Chinese, Cole said, and he agreed with Ferry that, “we are not called upon to anticipate difficulties which do not really threaten us.” Cole was a former business associate of Leland Stanford, and although he opposed political rights for the Chinese, he knew cheap labor was essential for California’s development. While Cole refused to stoop to racist rhetoric, he was keenly aware of the political realities of the Chinese issue in California.[7]

The Howard amendment also won the support of Republican Senator James W. Patterson (New Hampshire) who said “by the passage of this proposition we shall relieve these black citizens, native to the soil, from the wrong which is done to them, without doing any wrong to the Asiatics who may flow in upon our western shores.” Patterson preferred to leave the question of Chinese suffrage open “so that if war springs up in Asia and these increasing tides of immigration pour upon our Pacific coast in such numbers as to endanger the welfare of those States, they may have it in their power to guard themselves against the threatened evils . . .” Democratic Senator James R. Doolittle (Wisconsin) objected to the Howard amendment because it “raises the question of the propriety and justice of this Government forcing upon the States by a constitutional amendment the African vote.” Doolittle declared, “the Africans are incompetent to vote. We know it. Everybody knows it.” He predicted that as trade with Asia increased, “hundreds and thousands, it may be hundreds of thousands, of laboring men from China and Japan, and the great fountain of human population in Asia, will be brought to the United States.” The senator questioned how, in light of their belief in equal rights, the Republicans could give the vote to blacks and deny suffrage to the Chinese when “the Chinese are far in advance of the African in point of civilization.”[8]

Although remaining vigilant to protect California’s position on Chinese voting rights, Cole for the most part met Democratic sarcasm with silence. During the long session of February 8 and 9, he moved quickly to object to the addition of the word “nativity” to an amendment that said no one should be denied the vote on account of race, color, or property. Cole pointed out that:

The amendment sought to be embodied in the Constitution is intended to meet the case of negroes. I think the word nativity might as well be left out. It is perhaps paying some deference to a mere prejudice against the Chinese, who will not become citizens in any event. I think it had better be left out.

Many years later Cole wrote in his memoirs:

I was always opposed to admitting the Orientals to full citizenship and encountered no little difficulty in resisting the inclination of certain Senators to so qualify them. The argument was the Chinese, being generally educated and . . . an industrious people, were better fitted for citizenship than the ignorant African ex-slave who had been furnished the ballot.[9]

On February 9, the Senate debated a Sumner amendment that read, “The right to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, nor by any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Moderate Republican Oliver P. Morton (Indiana) immediately pointed out that the gist of Sumner’s amendment would be to make the Chinese eligible to vote and hold office. By omitting the words “of citizens of the United States,” the senator said, “then you make the Chinese, without being citizens, eligible to office and to vote.” William Stewart also noted that such an omission might lead to the amendment being “misconstrued in the popular mind” and he hoped that Sumner’s change would not be adopted. Doolittle agreed with Morton’s interpretation and added, “not only would it authorize the Chinese to vote, but it would authorize the Indians to vote in every State and Territory of the Union.” Doolittle declared that the word “citizens” was included in the Stewart version of the amendment “mainly to secure the support of our friends on the western coast to the proposition, inasmuch as they think they are safe against the Chinese becoming citizens for the present under the naturalization laws.” But he warned, when Sumner “begins with the naturalization laws to give his sledge-hammer blows at this terrible word ‘white’ then our friends from California and Oregon will understand the meaning of the amendment.” At this point in the debate Sumner said, “I beg to remind my friend that I have a bill for that purpose now before the Committee on the Judiciary.” When that bill actually came before the Senate, Cole wrote to his wife from his Senate desk:

The naturalization law is under discussion; Democrats alone are talking upon it. The Republicans will say little or nothing, but I think we shall sit it out, if it runs into Sunday. The danger that has kept me here is that Sumner will move to strike out the word white from the naturalization laws, so that the Chinese could be naturalized. Should such a clause pass, it would kill our party in California, dead as a stone. If it passed in my absence, the people would lynch me. Eugene Casserly [Democrat, California] will of course oppose it, but it will not be less likely to pass on that account, so I dare not leave.[10]

United States Senator Cornelius Cole

(Courtesy of the California State Library)

In the course of the Fifteenth Amendment debates, Democrats accused the Republicans of wanting to enfranchise African Americans simply to win new voters for the Republican Party. California’s Senator John Conness (Union-Republican) thought he detected an insinuation in Doolittle’s speech that the Republicans might try to obtain Chinese votes for the party. Conness countered that the Democrats had used “new modes” of naturalizing citizens and had sent “regiments of voters” to the polls “as unworthy to cast a vote as any Chinaman on the Pacific coast.” While declaring himself willing to admit any Chinese to citizenship who was educated and “a devotee of republican institutions,” Conness declared, “it will not be gainsayed by any person who is acquainted with the Chinese character and population that not one in ten thousand of them has any capacity whatever for American citizenship.” Conness opposed Sumner’s amendment, saying, “I desire that none but citizens shall vote, and I wish to continue the word ‘white’ in the naturalization laws, because it excludes no one that may not properly be excluded unless a man in ten thousand of Chinese origins; . . .” Conness asserted that any change in the naturalization laws that would give the Democrats a chance at the Chinese vote would be “a very dangerous thing indeed.”[11]

Senator Morton believed that striking the word “white” from the naturalization laws would be consistent “with the condition of things in this country after the adoption of this amendment for impartial suffrage, . . .” Morton stated that when blacks from the West Indies and Brazil applied for citizenship “There can be no question that the right will be granted.” But Morton’s belief in the equal rights of man omitted the Chinese. In a long speech, he expressed his fear that there might then be “a deluge of Chinese on the Pacific coast. I think there ought to be some words of exclusion for the Chinese.” Morton said, “The negro race . . . know no other civilization than our own. The Chinese belong to another civilization, one that can never unite or assimilate with ours.” The senator predicted that the Chinese could never become American citizens in “heart and feeling,” and he doubted “whether their children born in this country can or will assimilate with our civilization.” Morton sounded like a California Democrat when he worried that the Chinese might become a majority on the Pacific Coast, seize political power, and avenge themselves for the abuse inflicted upon them. He thought there ought to be “some provision against a catastrophe of that kind.” The Chinese issue separated the sincerely dedicated equal rights men from those whose commitment was half-hearted or limited.[12]

Continuing the debate, Republican George H. Williams of Oregon said he would not vote for the Sumner amendment under any circumstances. He charged that a few individuals controlled the Chinese “masses” on the Pacific Coast, but that nevertheless, “they have sense enough to see that the possession of the political control of that country would redound greatly to their benefit.” Williams thought he detected a conspiracy on China’s part: “The authorities in China might send over hundreds of thousands of Chinamen to the Pacific coast instructed to become citizens for the purpose of securing in every possible way the production of that vast and rich country for the benefit of the Chinese empire.” He repeated the old charge that the Chinese had no regard for an oath, and Conness supported him, saying, “when Chinese offer themselves as witnesses in our courts they never take our oaths at all.” Conness then told the Senate the Chinese were sworn either by burning a piece of paper sacred to them or “by bringing a chicken into court and cutting its head off.” Sumner yielded to the protests his amendment prompted, saying, “since my friend from Oregon has found in the suggestion that I made on this amendment the empire of China and all her millions of population, I certainly shall not press it any further.”[13]

Radical Republican Henry Wilson (Massachusetts) then proposed an amendment that caused another flurry among the Western senators. Wilson’s measured stated, “No discrimination shall be made in any State among the citizens of the United States in the exercise of the elective franchise, or in the right to hold office on account of race, color, nativity, property, education, or creed.” Ignoring the Chinese, he asserted that his amendment would allow any state “to try the experiment of woman suffrage.” Corbett of Oregon moved to add the words, “But Chinamen not born in the United States and Indians not taxed shall not be deemed or made citizens.” He explained, “I am satisfied from the persistence of our friend from Massachusetts [Sumner] that he will persevere until he has stricken the word ‘white’ from the naturalization laws; and when the . . . laws are so amended they will let in the Chinese.” Corbett saw a threat to the Christian institutions of Americans on the Pacific Coast from the “paganism” of the Chinese. The Oregon senator tried to persuade the Senate to consider Chinese exclusion or prevention of immigration. He vowed not to vote for the Fifteenth Amendment unless it included a guarantee “that the Pacific coast shall not be flooded with an immigration of perhaps a million people of that class.” Anxious to have the Senate approve his moderate amendment instead of Wilson’s comprehensive suffrage proposal, Senator Stewart also deprecated the Chinese as American citizens. He said:

I have no doubt that the Senate or any other body of men, when they come to learn the facts, will see the utter futility of making citizens of the Chinese. You can much more readily make citizens of the Comanches and get them to adopt your manners and customs, and they would not be liable to such complete control as the Chinese. The idea of naturalizing them is entirely out of the question, as anyone will see on investigation.

Stewart’s efforts proved fruitless. With the Radicals temporarily in ascendance, the Senate adopted Wilson’s amendment (without Corbett’s additions) and sent it to the House. Cole voted against the Wilson proposal, but Conness voted for it, as did others, on the theory, perhaps, that such a comprehensive plan would never be accepted or that debate would thus be prolonged until the end of the session. Agreeing with Senate moderates that the Wilson version was too far-reaching, the House rejected it.[14]

In the end, moderate Republicans and Democrats managed to block all the stronger versions of the Fifteenth Amendment such as those proposed by Sumner and Wilson. The controversy between the Senate and the House over the amendment’s final form necessitated a joint conference committee. On February 26 California Senators Cole and Conness both voted for the committee’s measure, essentially the Stewart amendment without the office holding guarantee. The Senate voted on party lines, 39 “yes” to 13 “no” votes, with 14 abstaining. In the House, California Representatives Samuel B. Axtell and James A. Johnson, both Democrats, voted against the amendment. They refrained from participating in the House debates on the measure. Republican William Higby, a native of New York, voted “yes” and in a speech praising the Fifteenth Amendment declared that blacks’ security lay in the “protection which the ballot will give them.” The House vote was 144 Republican “yes” votes to three “no” votes. The Democrats voted 41 “no votes” and not one “yes” vote. Thirty-five Democrats abstained from voting.[15]

Senator Morton, who had supported the Wilson version, was one of many men who recognized that the amendment provided no ironclad guarantee of either black suffrage or security. Commenting on the Stewart proposal, he said, “It tacitly concedes that the States may disfranchise the colored people or any other class of people for other reasons save and except those mentioned in the amendment. . . . In other words it leaves all the existing irregularities and incongruities in suffrage.” Radical Republican Representative Samuel Shellabarger (Ohio) also warned that African American voting could still be prevented, saying:

I tell you it will be done. The overwhelming and ocean-like volume of facts which comes to us every single day of our lives in undissenting [sic] voice proves that the master white race will submit to negro enfranchisement not an hour longer than compelled to by Federal coercion, or as a necessity to reacquire admission to national power.

But under the political conditions of 1869, Radical Republicans failed to rally sufficient support for a stronger measure. Even Wendell Phillips, the well-known abolitionist, wrote an editorial for the Anti-Slavery Standard criticizing the Senate of being more radical than necessary. In the face of Democratic victories, states’ resistance to black suffrage, and Grant’s small plurality of 300,000 votes, Republican moderates also urged caution and succeeded in holding the amendment to a negatively worded measure that failed to actually give the vote to anyone. Considering the pressures and counter-pressures at work, the shifting coalitions, the egos of individual sponsors, it is surprising that Congress adopted any proposal at all—and at times the cause indeed seemed hopeless. Only persistent leadership succeeded in salvaging the Fifteenth Amendment from the battering process of enactment. Congress passed it on February 26, 1869, and by March 1870 enough states had ratified the amendment to ensure its place in the Constitution.[16]

The larger California newspapers carefully followed the amendment’s progress. The leading Democratic paper, the Examiner, opposed the measure, saying:

All sensible men are prepared to accept in good faith the legitimate results of that [Civil] war. Of these the Fifteenth Amendment is not one, and there is no division of sentiment among Democrats on this point. . . . The white race must rule the world. The Ethiopian clog may impede but cannot stop the wheels of the great white car of Progress. It will roll on and those who place themselves in its way will be ground to powder.

The paper went on to predict extinction for the black race with the result that “Their votes will serve the Radicals but a temporary expedient, and should they succeed in establishing negro suffrage in every State, it will not serve to prolong their power.” The Examiner saw only one motive in Republican support for what the paper termed the “Chinese-Negro amendment,” and that was not principle, but the preservation of “Radical ascendancy.”[17]

In January 1868 California’s Democratic leaders had started an official party organ, the State Capital Reporter. Much more restrained in its writings than the Examiner, the paper announced that it took the Constitution “for its guide, and battled for the principles of the Democratic party as laid down by Jefferson and followed by such patriots as Madison, Monroe, Jackson and Polk.” In the opinion of the Reporter:

The right to determine the qualifications of its electors is one of the dearest rights of the states, and was not relinquished at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, or since. . . . Any state that ratifies, . . . any such amendment, places itself in abject submission to a centralized power, and its citizens no longer entitled to be called freemen.

On March 2, 1869, the Reporter ruefully commented, “The deed is done. Another nail in the coffin of Constitutional Liberty has been struck. Congress has at last passed the resolution to submit to the States for ratification another amendment to the old Constitution, being the fifteenth. How many more will it take to obliterate all the old landmarks of that once sacred document?” Already anticipating the fall election, the paper added, “Fortunately the members of the next Legislature of this State will all be elected with a view to this question. It should be the especial care of the Democratic party to see that no man is placed upon a ticket who is not an active and avowed opponent to the ratification of this amendment.”[18]

The Sacramento Union observed “there is evil in sectional differences on this important matter [black suffrage], and uniformity of rule is desirable.” The paper objected to George Boutwell’s version of the amendment, which was close to the final form, because it failed to prevent “an intelligence qualification, or a property qualification, or a qualification of sex or age, . . .” The Union recognized the amendment’s limiting effect, saying “the presumption will be that the General Government can do nothing more than prevent distinction on account of race or color, and that all other qualifications are left to the States.” The San Francisco Alta California termed the amendment one “absolutely demanded” in view of the fact that the Southern states were the only part of the country where African Americans were allowed to vote. The paper asserted:

The nation cannot work along in its present lop-sided condition, so far as the suffrage is concerned, for all time to come. . . . The universal opinion is that constitutions were made for the people, and not the people for constitutions, and whenever their altered circumstances require a modification there will be no hesitation in adopting it.[19]

The Union objected to the Democratic newspapers’ misrepresentation of the Fifteenth Amendment respecting Chinese suffrage, saying, “We have steadily pointed out the fact that the Chinese cannot be made citizens under our laws, and hence not voters, nor have we expressed any desire to change that state of facts.” The paper also took exception to Senator Corbett’s statement that the Chinese ought to be excluded from the country because they were “pagans.” The paper stated:

There is really no ground for the sweeping assertion that Pagans are natural rogues. Our experience with them in this State contradicts that ancient error of opinion among narrow-minded men. Our statistics of crime show that the Asiatics are as little given to offenses against the law as any other class, and much less than some classes of foreigners on whom we have never hesitated to confer citizenship and the right to hold offices.

Nevertheless, the Union believed that the Republican Party would be wise to avoid the Chinese suffrage issue at present because “We admit that probably the majority of the voters on the Pacific slope are opposed to granting the right of suffrage and the right to hold office to the Chinese. . . . We are willing to wait on time and events to prove that these people merit better treatment and greater confidence, and that they are fitter than the majority now deem them for these responsibilities.”[20]

The Alta declared, however, “We are free to admit that we do not think that John Chinaman would make a very useful citizen of the United States . . . It is not at all likely that his assistance in running the machinery of this Government would be at all valuable; . . .” The paper asserted that the Chinese did not want citizenship and even if they did they could not pass the naturalization examination. The Sacramento Bee commented that an amendment that allowed the Chinese to vote “could not find favor in California,” and added, “We have among us enough ignorant voters, without adding thereto.”[21]

States’ rights rather than Chinese voting rights struck the Examiner as the most important issue in connection with the Fifteenth Amendment. The paper said, “the vital question with us is not can Chinamen be naturalized under the law as it now stands, but will we part with the right to control suffrage and qualifications to office?” The Chinese, said the Examiner inaccurately, “have the right under the [Burlingame] treaty to become citizens now. Pass the proposed Amendment and that moment they are endowed with the right to vote.” The Alta, which in July 1867 had declared, “The States cannot be made to yield up, each for itself, the sovereignty over the suffrage laws of its inhabitants”—now observed with some sophistry, “By adopting that amendment Congress simply asks these States to surrender a right which they have been exercising, and which it fully acknowledges, to the General Government, and for good and sufficient reasons. . . . A right is in no wise destroyed by requesting its surrender.”[22]

The Fifteenth Amendment disappointed the Alta. Two days after the Senate accepted the measure, the paper declared, “The Constitutional Amendment has . . . fallen maimed. In the controversy between the two Houses the vital principle was almost crushed out of it.” The Alta blamed the House of Representatives for “leaving a path open by which the great work in which it has been engaged for the last four years can be approached, assaulted with success and entirely demolished.” If the amendment became part of the Constitution, the Southern legislatures could at any time “establish education tests which will exclude the whole body of the freedmen from suffrage” The paper thought it might have been better if the amendment had not passed, allowing the Forty-First Congress to deal with the franchise question. The Examiner, too, recognized the weakness of the amendment and noted that the States could impose voting restrictions because the measure set conditions only on “the score of race and color.”[23]

The San Francisco Elevator, however, optimistically predicted that California’s African Americans would be voting within two years and advised its readers “it is incumbent upon us we should exercise [the vote] intelligently.” Calling blacks “naturally politicians,” the paper said:

We are proverbially adherents to the governments under which we live, and are known to be obedient to the laws. These qualities make us a valuable acquisition to the voting population of the country, and after the first wonder, caused by prejudice is over, all parties will be seeking our political aid and influence.

The Elevator suggested there was a need for an organization to prepare blacks to actively support the Fifteenth Amendment, for example, through speakers delivering lectures on the subject.[24]

Despite its obvious weaknesses, the Fifteenth Amendment became the California Democrats’ leading issue in the 1869 election. Opposition to Chinese and African American voting rights and to Chinese labor formed the major part of the Democratic program. On the defensive and with the defeat of 1867 still fresh, the Republicans also opposed Chinese suffrage and naturalization. Additionally, the Republican program recognized the power of the federal government “to restrict or prevent Chinese immigration,” but warned such a policy would surrender Asian commerce to Europe. In California the majority of voters and politicians were in the process of surrendering to the tyranny of racism.[25]

Notes: Chapter VI

[1] William Gillette, The Right to Vote (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), 31-33, 35-37, 46-47; Donald Bruce Johnson and Kirk H. Porter, National Party Platforms (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1973), 39; Congressional Globe, 40th Cong., 3d Sess., Dec. 7, 1868-March 3, 1869, 697. All subsequent references in this chapter to the Globe refer to the Fortieth Congress in its Third Session unless otherwise indicated. James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1972), 333, 382; McPherson writes: “The four phrases most frequently used were ‘Negro suffrage,’ ‘impartial suffrage,’ ‘equal suffrage,’ and ‘universal suffrage.’ There were real differences in the meanings of these phrases, but as time went on, the differences tended to disappear. ‘Impartial suffrage’ and ‘equal suffrage’ meant that whether the franchise was unrestricted or qualified it would be open equally to both races. Any qualifications, such as a literacy test or property ownership, must be applied impartially to both races. ‘Universal suffrage’ meant universal manhood suffrage for both races, unrestricted except for age and residence requirements. ‘Negro suffrage,’ the phrase most often used, could mean either universal or impartial suffrage. Sometimes it was also used (but seldom by abolitionists) to mean a limited grant of suffrage to Negroes who met special requirements not applicable to whites.” See page 327.
[2] McPherson, Struggle for Equality, 333, 382, 425; Globe, 989.
[3] U.S. Constitution, amend.15, secs. 1 and 2; Gillette, Right to Vote, 71-73, 163; McPherson, Struggle for Equality, 430-32.
[4] Gillette, Right to Vote, 50, 53; Globe, 286, 555.
[5] Globe, 379, 668; Gillette, Right to Vote, 54-55; In retrospect Stewart said, “It would have been much wiser to adopt restrictions, excluding the ignorant, vicious, and incompetent of all classes by tests which would limit the voting population to intelligent citizens with some interest in the welfare of the country. But the effect of the amendment has been what I supposed it would be, to secure for the negro in the Northern states his right to vote without interruption.” See Reminiscences of Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1908), 238.
[6] Globe, 986, 989, 990, 1641; Gillette, Right to Vote, 65, n.73; David Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), 352-54.
[7] Globe, 1008-09; Catherine Phillips, Cornelius Cole, California Pioneer and United States Senator; A Study in Personality and Achievements Bearing on the Growth of a Commonwealth (San Francisco: Printed by J.H. Nash, 1929), 204-205.
[8] Globe, 1009-11.
[9] Ibid., 1013; Cornelius Cole, Memoirs of Cornelius Cole, Ex-Senator of the United States from California (New York: McLoughlin Brothers, 1908), 285-87.
[10] Globe, 1030-31; Phillips, Cornelius Cole, 228.
[11] Globe, 1032.
[12] Ibid., 1034.
[13] Ibid., 1034-35.
[14] Ibid., 1035, Appendix, 153-54; Gillette, Right to Vote, 61-63; During this discussion Senator Cole praised the Chinese for their “industry, their economy, their integrity and their enterprise” and said “They have assisted to build our railroads; they have been employed as servants in almost every capacity; and it is difficult to see how we could have got along anywhere near so fast as we have in those industries had it not been for this description of labor.” See Cole, Memoirs, 285-87.
[15] Gillette, Right to Vote, 69-71, 73-74, 75-76; Globe, 1564, 1641; Appendix, 294-95; Biographical Dictionary of the United States,, accessed Nov. 11, 2004.
[16] Globe, 863, 1037; Appendix, 97; Gillette, Right to Vote, 40, 71-72; McPherson, Struggle for Equality, 426-27. Senator Stewart later wrote, “the effect of the amendment has been what I supposed it would be, to secure for the negro in the Northern states his right to vote without interruption.” See his Reminiscences, 238.
[17] San Francisco Daily Examiner, Jan. 15, 1869, p. 2, col. 2, Feb. 11, 1869, p. 2, col. 2, Aug. 28, 1969, p. 2, col. 3.
[18] Sacramento State Capital Reporter, Jan. 12, 1869, p. 2, col. 1, Jan. 21, 1869, p. 2, col. 1, March 2, 1869, p. 2, col. 2.
[19] Sacramento Daily Union, Jan. 13, 1869, p. 2, col. 2, Jan. 26, 1869, p. 2, col. 2; San Francisco Daily Alta California, Feb. 2, 1869, p. 2, col. 1.
[20] Union, Feb. 9, 1869, p. 2, col. 2, Feb. 12, 1869, p. 2, col. 2, Feb. 13, 1869, p. 2, col. 3.
[21] Alta, Feb. 11, 1869, p. 2, col. 2; Sacramento Daily Bee, Feb. 18, 1869, p. 2, col. 2.
[22] Examiner, Feb. 19, 1869, p. 2, col. 2; Alta, July 15, 1867, p. 2, col. 2, Feb. 23, 1869, p. 2, col. 1.
[23] Alta, Feb. 28, 1869, p. 2, col. 1; Examiner, March 8, 1869, p. 2, col. 2.
[24] Elevator, Feb. 5, 1869, p. 2, col. 2.
[25] Winfield J. Davis, History of Political Conventions in California, 1849-1892 (Sacramento: Publications of the California State Library, No. 1, 1893), 289-90, 293.