African American Enfranchisement as a way to degrade South
White southerners were also vehemently opposed to African American male suffrage for a plethora of reasons. One of the themes which Tourgee examines very carefully is the idea that allowing freedmen the right to vote was simply a means by which the South could be belittled by the North. In A Fool’s Errand Tourgee describes the southern interpretation of the northern focus of gaining rights of suffrage for African American males. “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” (Item 586). In this way southerners had a completely distorted view of the end goal of the northerners. They believed that the North intended to manipulate freedmen in order to cause more ruin for the already disgraced South rather than to actually promote the status of former slaves. Tourgee goes on to include his interpretation of this southern belief. “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” (Item 586). In this way he recognizes the fact that the North did not see African Americans as equal necessarily but then also goes on to explain that though that was true, it didn’t mean they were concerned about their advancement merely as a means to get back at the South for seceding from the Union. Tourgee’s description of this widely held belief highlights the obvious tension which existed between the two parts of the country. It also exhibits the highly victimized feeling that southerners had. They acted insecure because of their recent loss and thus, attributed all the northerner actions as being vindictive rather than simply motions to advance the status of African Americans who had been recently freed.
Tourgee addresses this same theme of African American enfranchisement being a means to downgrade the South in his fictional novel, An Appeal to Caesar. He argues, “To the Southern white man, anything that looked toward the elevation of the negro beyond the mere fact of his liberty, — which as a rule he was willing to concede, — any other civil or political right which it was proposed to confer upon the recent slave, seemed a direct assault upon the master himself” (Item 578). This feeling was fueled by a southern idea that
somehow, though officially emancipation had been granted to slaves in Confederate states, white southerners still saw themselves as rightful masters of African Americans. They still believed they were superior enough that it was their right to own slaves. Though
in a legal sense this had been completely discounted, it was a feeling that would die hard in the South. As a result of their feeling that slaves still belonged to masters, any act which would allow for the advancement of the slave was indeed an attempt to maim the work of the master. This is an interesting point for Tourgee to address because it highlights a larger idea which is true for the Civil War period and many other times in American history. That is, there is most certainly a lag between when actual legislation comes into effect and when the mindset of citizens affected by it is changed. In this situation, the superior attitude of white southerners wouldn’t be converted for many years even when African Americans were declared freed from their masters.