SPEECH OF HON. H.B. SMITH,
Of New York,
In the House of Representatives,
June 8, 1872,
On the condition of affairs in Louisiana.
Mr. SMITH, of New York. Mr Speaker, the people of this country have suffered much in saving and guarding their liberties put up further with tricks and shams. Honest themselves, they demand that politicians deal squarely with them. It were wise, too, for politicians to bear in mind that they intelligent, and are just now in no humor fooling.
I have not sought the floor, Mr. Speaker, to defend bad men in Louisiana. The Republican party, born of the conscience of this country, with a muscle made hard in the struggle with giant wrong, with a career always glorious and always triumphant because always just, has no use for white-wash. That is a good thing for sepulchers, but for a live and giant party it is too cheap for glory and too thin for strength.
Mr. Speaker, if with the convictions of my conscience I should deny that Louisiana has suffered from adventurers and villains in official position, I should be guilty of a dereliction of duty to this House as a member of your committee, and of gross infidelity to the Republican party. That party, sir, like Brutus, is just enough and strong enough to condemn its first born to death. I shall not assert that the Governor of Louisiana is alone responsible for the troubles in that State, nor deny that he was elected by Republican votes. But I do assert that from about the commencement of his official term he has been gayly coqueling with the Democratic party, and that Barkis has been amazingly "willin'," that he has appointed more Democrats than Republicans to office, and that with his first official misconduct, the Republican party of Louisiana, (except
such men as he held by personal favor and patronage) led by pure, noble, and heroic men, arrayed itself in solid and determined opposition to him. And, Mr. Speaker, this load of shame would not have been laid upon Louisiana but for the fact that the virtuous and white robed Democracy of the State at the critical moment rushed to his support and formed with him in January, 1871, an infamous coalition which held the Republican party in the Legislature in complete subjection, and brought Louisiana to the depth of humiliation to which she has been plunged.
Mr. Speaker, let the wailing report of the Democratic members of this committee go to the ear of the country. I will not stop to say the picture is overdrawn, but I invite these gentlemen to come to the counter and post the books, that the country may decide who shall bear the infamy.
The Democratic Legislature of Louisiana of 1866, to which was returned but one Union man, like every Democratic Legislature in the Union, contemptuously rejected the fourteenth amendment, which, bear in mind, did not impose negro suffrage, but made the freedmen citizens, and abolished the three-fifths representation in Congress. Feeling "pity and kindness" for the freedmen, as Democratic witnesses testified before your committee, the same Legislature expelled the Union member, who offered a resolution that the United States flag should be hung over the speaker's chair, and passed, among others, the following laws;
"An act to provide for and regulate labor contracts for agricultural pursuits, which required the freedmen 'within the first ten days of the month of January of each year,' to make contracts for labor for a whole year before a justice of the peace and two 'disinterested witnesses,' the heads of families to make contracts for all the members of the family able to work; the ninth section of whiah act provided for a 'common fund,' into which all funds were to go, to be divided among the laborers, and by which certain acts of the laborers are declared to be 'disobedience.' Judgments under this section were to be entered by the employer, but, if not satisfactory to the freedmen, 'an appeal may be had to the nearest justice of the peace and two freeholders, citizens, one of said citizens to be selected by the employer and the other by tbe laborer.'
"Also, an act to prohibit the carrying of fire-arms on premises or plantations of any citizen without the consent of the owner.
"Also, an act to prevent trespassing, which seems intended to prevent freedmen from leaving the plantations on which they were employed and from visiting each other.
"Also, an act making an important change in the vagrant law of Louisiana, allowing a justice of the peace, it would seem, by demanding, any sort of a bond for good behavior in such an amount and with such sureties as he may choose, which it would be impossible for the freedmen to procure, to 'hire out' the latter for one year to a planter, or to 'cause him to labor on the public works, roads, and levees.'
"Also, an act to provide for tho punishment of persons for tampering with, persuading, or enticing away ,harboring, feeding, or secreting laborers, servants, or apprentices, very stringent in its provisions.
"Also an act relative to apprentices and indentured servants, authorizing parish officer to apprentice all persons under the age of eighteen years if females, and twenty-one years if males,' under the conditions stated. In all cases when the age of the minor cannot be ascertained by 'record testimony,' the officer 'shall fix the age according to the best evidence before him.'
"The second section declares 'valid and binding' contracts made in the United States or 'in a foreign country' for the term of five years.
"Also, an act to punish in certain cases the employers of laborers or apprentices, intended, it would seem, to revive tho old slavery regulation that colored persons should carry 'written certificates' or 'passes.'"
Here, sir, was the nest-egg of a new "irrepressible conflict," and of new wars for oar children to fight out.
More than a year before had the prophetic Lincoln suggested the giving of the right of suffrage to the blacks of Louisiana, as in some hour of danger they might "aid in preserving the jewel of liberty in the family of freedom." . . .