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Albion Tourgée on African Americans not being able to testify in court in A Fool's Errand, 1879


Albion Tourgée on African Americans not being able to testify in court in A Fool's Errand, 1879


In Tourgee's A Fool's Errand he examines the fact that African Americans were not given the right to testify in a court room. This was an important example of how they weren't granted rights, though they had been given freedom. It was understood that if African Americans were allowed to tesitfy in court they would better protect and advocate for civil liberties. By not enabling them a platform to be heard, it was clear that whites at the time were afraid of what might happen to their situation if African Americans were given this power.


Albion Tourgée


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



Original Format



”It was for the discussion of questions thus arising that the meeting we have now in hand was called. The great subject of contention between the opposing factions was as to whether the recently freed people ought to be allowed to testify in courts of justice.

"What!" said one of the speakers, "allow a nigger to testify! allow him to swear away your rights and mine! Never! We have been outraged and insulted! Our best men have been put under a ban; but we have not got so low as to submit to that yet. Our rights are too sacred to be put at the mercy of nigger perjurers!"

This sentiment seemed to meet with very general indorsement from the assembled suffragans, and more than one burst of applause greeted the speech of which it was a part.

When the meeting seemed to be drawing to a close, and Servosse was considering the question of going home, he was surprised at hearing from the rude stand the voice of this same orator addressing the assemblage for a second time, and evidently making allusion to himself.

"Mr. Chairman," he said, "I see there is a man on the ground who has lately come among us from one of the Northern States, who has been here all day listening to what we have said, whether as a spy or a citizen I do not know. It is currently reported that he has been sent down here by some body of men at the North to assist in overturning our institutions, and putting the bottom rail on top. I understand that he is in favor of social equality, nigger witnesses, nigger juries, and nigger voters. I don't know these things, but just hear them; and it may be that I am doing him injustice. I hope I am, and, if so, that an opportunity will now be given for him to come forward and deny them. If he has come among us as a bona-fide citizen, having the interest of our people at heart, now is a good time for him to let it be known. If he has come to degrade and oppress us, we would like to know what reason he has for such a course. In any event we would all like to hear from Colonel Servosse; and I move that he be invited to address this meeting."

Had a bombshell fallen at the Fool's feet, it could not have amazed him more. He saw the purpose at once. Vaughn and several others, whom he had reason to suppose had no kindly feelings for him, were evidently the instigators of this speech. They were gathering around the orator; and no sooner had he had ceased speaking than they began to shout, "Servosse! Servosse! Servosse!"

The chairman rose, and said something amid the din. Only a few words reached the ears of Servosse:

"Moved 'nd sec'n'd--Servosse--'dress--meeting. Those in favor--aye." There was a storm of ayes. "Opposed-- no." Dead silence; and then a period of quiet, with only an occasional yell for "Servosse" from the party of malignants on the right of the stand.

Servosse shook his head to the chairman; but the shouts were redoubled, and there was a closing in of the crowd, who were evidently very curious as to the result of this call.

"Bring him on!" shouted Vaughn to those who stood around. "Bring him on! Let's hear from him! We haven't heard a speech from a Yankee in a long time."

"Servosse! Servosse! Servosse!" shouted the crowd. Those who stood about him began to crowd him towards the platform in spite of his protests. They were perfectly respectful and good-humored; but they were evidently determined to have a speech from their new neighbor, or else some fun at his expense.

"Oh, bring him along!" cried Vaughn from the stand. "Don't keep him all to yourselves, gentlemen. We can't hear a word here. Give us a chance!"

This sally was greeted with a shout; and Servosse, still expostulating and excusing himself, was picked up by a dozen strong arms, carried along between the rows of seats,--rough pine boards laid upon logs,--and hoisted upon the platform, amid a roar of laughter.

"We've got him now," he heard Vaughn say to his clique. "He's got to make a speech, and then Colonel Johnson can just give him hell"

There was another cry of "Speech! speech! speech!"

Then the chairman called for order; and there was silence, save here and there a dropping word of encouragement real or mock,--"Speech! Go on! Give it to 'em, Yank!" &c.

Servosse had noticed that the crowd were not all of one mind. It was true that there was an apparent unanimity, because those who dissented from the views which had been expressed were silent, and did not show their dissent by any remarks or clamor. He knew the county was one which had been termed a"Union county"when the war began; and there was still a considerable element whose inclinations were against the Rebellion, and who only looked back at it as an unmitigated evil. They had suffered severely in one form and another by its continuance and results, and smarted over the sort of compulsive trickery by which the nation was forced into the conflict. He had marked all these things as the meeting had progressed; and now that those whom he recognized as his enemies had succeeded in putting him in this position, he determined to face the music, and not allow them to gain any advantage if he could help it.

He shook himself together, therefore, and said good-naturedly,--

"Well, gentlemen, I have heard that--

'One man may lead the pony to the brink, But twenty thousand can not make him drink!'

So, while you have shown yourselves able to pick me up, and put me on the platform, I defy you to elicit a speech, unless you'll make one for me. However, I am very much obliged to you for putting me up here, as those rough boards without backs were getting very hard, and I shall no doubt be much more comfortable in this chair."

Whereupon he took a seat which stood by the table near the chairman, and coolly sat down. The self-possession displayed by this movement struck the crowd favorably, and was greeted by cheers, laughter, and cries of "Good!" "That's so!" and other tokens of admiration. If it had been the purpose of those who had started the cry to press him to an impromptu speech before a crowd already excited by a discussion they knew to have been in direct conflict with the views he must reasonably entertain, in order that he might meet a rebuff, he was in a fair way to disappoint them. Instead of making an exasperating speech or an enjoyable failure, he had simply refused to be drawn into the net spread for him by coolly asserting his right to speak or keep silence as he chose. And the crowd unmistakably approved.


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Albion Tourgée, Albion Tourgée on African Americans not being able to testify in court in A Fool's Errand, 1879, Civil War Era NC, accessed October 4, 2022,