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Albion Tourgée on restricted voting for African Americans in A Fool's Errand, 1879


Albion Tourgée on restricted voting for African Americans in A Fool's Errand, 1879


In this excerpt from Tourgee's A Fool's Errand he describes a situation in which white southerners believed in some type of conditional right of voting.This specific example shows how white southerners were in favor of restricted suffrage for African American wherein the voting patterns
of the freedman complied with the wishes of their previous master. Essentially he asserts the feeling that if African Americans will be allowed the right of voting it should be with the guidance and to the advantage of the white southerner. This continues the idea that white southerners still had control over their former slaves, even though emancipation occurred. It also indicates a time in which they took a situation which was meant to promote the status of freedmen but attempted to manipulate it in order to regain their power over African Americans. Tourgee shows the view of white southerners that they believed former slaves wouldn’t have the education to vote effectively unless it was by the command and to the favor of their previous masters.


Albion Tourgée


Tourgée, Albion. A Fool's Errand. New York: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, 1879.



Original Format



ANTE BELLUM. NORTHERN IDEA OF SLAVERY: Slavery is wrong morally, politically, and economically. It is tolerated only for the sake of peace and quiet. The negro is a man, and has equal inherent rights with the white race SOUTHERN IDEA OF SLAVERY: The negro is fit only for slavery. It is sanctioned by the Bible, and it must be right; or, if not exactly right, is unavoidable, now that the race is among us. We can not live with them in any other condition. NORTHERN IDEA OF THE SOUTHERN IDEA: Those Southern fellows know that slavery is wrong, and incompatible with the theory of our government; but it is a good thing for them. They grow fat and rich, and have a good time, on account of it; and no one can blame them for not wanting to give it up. SOUTHERN IDEA OF THE NORTHERN IDEA: Those Yankees are jealous because we make slavery profitable, raising cotton and tobacco, and want to deprive us of our slaves from envy. They don't believe a word of what they say about its being wrong, except a few fanatics. The rest are all hypocrites. POST BELLUM. THE NORTHERN IDEA OF THE SITUATION: The negroes are free now, and must have a fair chance to make themselves something. What is claimed about their inferiority may be true. It is not likely to approve itself, but, true or false, they have a right to equality before the law. That is what the war meant, and this must be secured to them. The rest they must get as they can, or do without, as they choose. THE SOUTHERN IDEA OF THE SITUATION: We have lost our slaves, our bank stock, every thing, by the war. We have been beaten, and have honestly surrendered: slavery is gone, of course. The slave is now free, but he is not white. We have no ill will towards the colored man as such and in his place; but he is not our equal, can not be made our equal, and we will not be ruled by him, or admit him as a co-ordinate with the white race in power. We have no objection to his voting, so long as he votes as his old master, or the man for whom he labors, advises him; but, when he chooses to vote differently, he must take the consequences. THE NORTHERN IDEA OF THE SOUTHERN IDEA: Now that the negro is a voter, the Southern people will have to treat him well, because they will need his vote. The negro will remain true to the government and party which gave him liberty, and in order to secure its preservation. Enough of the Southern whites will go with them, for the sake of office and power, to enable them to retain permanent control of those States for an indefinite period. The negroes will go to work, and things will gradually adjust themselves. The South has no right to complain. They would have the negroes as slaves, kept the country in constant turmoil for the sake of them, brought on the war because we would not catch their runaways, killed a million of men; and now they can not complain if the very weapon by which they held power is turned against them, and is made the means of righting the wrongs which they have themselves created. It may be hard; but they will learn to do better hereafter. THE SOUTHERN IDEA OF THE NORTHERN IDEA: The negro is made a voter simply to degrade and disgrace the white people of the South. The North cares nothing about the negro as a man, but only enfranchises him in order to humiliate and enfeeble us. Of course, it makes no difference to the people of the North whether he is a voter or not. There are so few colored men there, that there is no fear of one of them being elected to office, going to the Legislature, or sitting on the bench. The whole purpose of the measure is to insult and degrade. But only wait until the States are restored and the "Blue Coats" are out of the way, and we will show them their mistake. There was just enough of truth in each of these estimates of the other's characteristics to mislead. The South, as a mass, was honest in its belief of the righteousness of slavery, both morally and politically. The North, in like manner, was equally honest in its conviction with regard to the wickedness of slavery, and its inconsistency with republican institutions; yet neither credited the other with honesty. The South was right in believing that the North cared little or nothing for the negro as a man, but wrong in the idea that the theory of political equality and manhood suffrage was invented or imposed from any thought of malice, revenge, or envy toward the South. The wish to degrade did not enter into the Northern mind in this connection. The idea that "of one blood are all the nations of the earth," and that "race, color, or previous condition of servitude," can not be allowed to affect the legal or political rights of any, was a living principle in the Northern mind, as little capable of suppression as the sentiment of race-antagonism by which it was met, and whose intensity it persistently discredited.


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Albion Tourgée, Albion Tourgée on restricted voting for African Americans in A Fool's Errand, 1879, Civil War Era NC, accessed July 15, 2024,