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Historical Archives: Is Our Nation Ready For A Negro Citizen?

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Historical Archives: Is Our Nation Ready For A Negro Citizen?

GENTLE MEN: I wish to address the most Brow furrowing Subject of the dusky African, and his Place in our fledgling Union. Scores benefit from the Sweat of his Labour, yet even the most sagacious among we White Folk can not envision a Role for him beyond that of a bonded Servant. Yet I maintain, quite contrary to the perceiv'd Customs & Mores of our current Age, that in Deed, our United States can accommodate the Citizenship of the Negro, and should do so at the earliest Convenience. Is our new Nation ready for the Negro Citizen? I reply with a resounding Yes.

I ask my fellow Men to leave the Tar Barrels with the Ship Wright, and pluck not an innocent Flock of Fowl, and permit me to make my Argument. To first address the Subject of Negro Citizenship, we must define what it is to be a Citizen. One would be surpris'd at how much Latitude we have in this Area. Though much has been made of Late of the Natural Rights of Man, and indeed a War of Independence was recently won by Men asserting their Natural Rights, the People remain undecid'd about the Degree to which Liberty should be assum'd for All. The Laws on this Matter are few and quite pliant. A Rumor circulates that not even the Articles of Confederation, our governing Charter, defines a Citizen, though this can not be affirmed as no one is sure where the Document is at present, the Parchment having last been seen four Years prior employed by a Delegate to kill a Fly. So vague is the Meaning of Citizenship that it need not mean Any Thing. A Citizen could be Something that could be yoked to a Plough. This is where the Negro comes in.

It may interest and amuse Many to know that there already exists, in our Towns and Hamlets, several thousand free Negroes of various Trades. These Free Negroes are quite a Curiosity, as they stroll about with their limbs free from Shackles, and in a few Cases, they are even Shod. Yet I see no Hazard in making Citizens of these colored Men. For if Citizenship is granted to the Negro, this does not necessarily preclude the Ability for the Republic to recognize other Strata of Society above him. For example, the Bottom Most Rung of the Ladder of the American Common Wealth would be the Citizen, followed by the Criminal, then the Back Woods Man, then the Stable Boy, the Yeoman, the Tinker, the Hang Man, the Overseer, the Wool Merchant, the Planter, &c.;, &c.;, and then so on up to the King. And of course we shall one Day have a King. But I shall not rule out an Emperor either.

At this Juncture, I wish to suggest a most Singular & Innovative Notion, one so entirely Original that it would make even a Madison or Jefferson blanch with Envy. I propose that this Negro Citizenship, such as it is, need not even extend to the Whole of a Negro's Physical Person. Exempli gratia, it would be a shameful Squandering of Effort, in Deed the Height of Folly, to grant Citizenship to the Negro's Shins, Fore Arms, and Any Thing above the Neck. I estimate that the ideal Ratio of Citizenship to Negro be Three-Fifths, give or take a Fifth. Let us err on the Side of Take. The remaining Two-Fifths need not go to Waste, how ever, as they could be divided amongst the Free White Inhabitants, who could always use the extra Consideration. This Three-Fifths Concept, I need hardly note, could benefit States of higher Negro Abundance, as it could give them a greater Influence in the Polity. Surely Georgia and the Carolinas can appreciate such an Advantage, having enjoy'd a long Tradition of Unfairness extending to their Earliest Settlement. Whether the States resolve to continue their Union under the Aegis of the Articles of Confederation, or another Governing Agreement to be draft'd at a Later Date, they should consider codifying the Three-Fifths Concept in some Incarnation.

Esteem'd Colleagues of mine are firm, yet civil, in their Objection to my Views. They adopt a long View, as they call it, on Negro Citizenship, saying that it is an Idea that can only be gradually introduc'd, so that the Populace may be properly inured, a Process that will not be fully achiev'd until the Midst of the Twentieth Century, perhaps about the Year MCMLXIV, and then after significant and disquieting Agitation from the Negro Folk themselves. Yet I firmly believe that to delay or forestall this Question could result in enormous Tragedy and incalculable Loss of all Manner of Opportunity for our infant Union, let alone do Nothing to settle the Issue of the Negro in America. Unless, of course, we decide to ship them all back to Africa.

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