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Assumption that freedmen needed suffrage only to achieve success

Tourgee also explains a commonly held belief that African American suffrage was all that was necessary for them to succeed. In A Fool’s Errand, Tourgee includes a letter of correspondence between him and a Northern individual with political prowess regarding the civil liberties freedmen had been granted and how they had utilized them. Tourgee quotes the Northerners’ belief on former slaves being able to vote, “If the colored people … expect to receive the approval, respect, and moral support of the country, they must show themselves capable of self-government, able to take care of themselves. The government has done all it can be expected to do,--all it had power to do, in fact. It has given the colored man the ballot, armed him with the weapon of the freeman, and now he
must show himself worthy to use it” (Item 587). This widely held feeling among Caucasians completely ignored the obvious fact that African Americans had been put at a handicap because of the work of white slave masters. Thus it would take them some time to reach success in government, it would certainly not happen immediately. It was a difficult subject to handle because treating African Americans as equals was a progressive idea and was certainly advantageous to them eventually becoming assimilated into American culture as citizens. However, at the same time it was necessary to consider their disadvantaged status in order to understand why coming to political achievement would be a lengthy process and deserved patience. In Tourgee’s response to this Northerner, he discusses the corruption of government, most especially at the local level.  He argues that given the dishonest nature of government, it is impossible that the freedmen can advance in society even with the civil liberties that they have been granted. Tourgee also emphasizes the importance of the work of the government, “The whole theory and policy of our government is to secure this right to the citizen … If that can give us no aid, we have none to hope for” (Item 587). This was an important response because the other individual highly downplayed the agency of the government in ensuring the success of African Americans.

An Appeal to Caesar continues the theme that if granted suffrage African Americans should be able to achieve the same level of success
as the white American. In this instance Tourgee makes a point to note who is making this faulty assumption. “The other class who fail to
estimate the negro correctly is composed of those peculiarly positive, undoubting Northern men who made up their minds, years ago, that all the negro needed to make him the equal, or a little more, than the equal, of the whites by whom he was surrounded, was liberty and the ballot” (Item 576). It is important that Tourgee makes this point because again he is noting the false conclusion that African Americans should be able to quickly catch up with Caucasians in society because they had been given their freedom as well as the
right to vote. In addition he also sheds light on the complicated viewpoint of the North. Tourgee argues that they certainly weren’t as understanding as they have been painted to be by some historians.