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"Chairman F.M. Simmons' Speech," Raleigh News and Observer, April 12, 1900


"Chairman F.M. Simmons' Speech," Raleigh News and Observer, April 12, 1900


In his speech at the State Democratic Convention, reprinted in the Raleigh News and Observer, Democratic Chairman Furnifold Simmons neatly summed up his party’s position on the disfranchisement amendment. He argued that if white men would and could always stand together an amendment, such as the one proposed, would not be needed; however, he did not believe this was possible (or even desirable) as, in order for white men to seriously debate the issues and vote according to their beliefs, they had to be free to disagree with one another. In order to ensure such open debate without giving up the benefits of white supremacy, Simmons maintained, white North Carolinians must pass the Suffrage Amendment. Simmons also justified the amendment on the basis of what he called the “well recognized and essential differences in the moral and intellectual attributes of the two races.” To support this claim, he extolled the virtues of the uneducated white voter who, despite his lack of formal education, was qualified for the vote based on his hallowed white ancestry. Simmons continued that while white voters, regardless of their ability to read or write, understood the issues as well as the significance of suffrage, an uneducated African American was almost “always an ignorant man, dull, heavy without opinion, without convictions, with but little judgment and scarcely any independence,” who failed to appreciate the consequences of the ballot he cast. Simmons sought protection for the voting rights of uneducated whites (hence the grandfather clause of the amendment), but claimed that it was best for everyone if the voting rights of African Americans were rescinded.


Raleigh News and Observer


"Chairman F.M. Simmons' Speech," Raleigh News and Observer, April 12, 1900, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina, Microfilm.




Erin Glant




Raleigh, North Carolina
Wake County, North Carolina

Original Format

Newspaper Article


On calling the Democratic State convention to order Chairman Simmons said:

Gentlemen of the Convention:

“This Convention is assembled by order of your Executive Committee for the purpose of nominating candidates for State offices and for the transaction of such other business as may be presented for its consideration. A call of the roll of counties discloses a fact never before so far as I can remember, presented in a Democratic State Convention; it is the fact that every county in North Carolina is represented by duly accredited delegates and no contest from any county.

“The Convention is, therefore, ready to proceed to perfect its temporary organization. It is my duty, as chairman of your Executive Committee, to name the temporary presiding officer of this Convention. But before doing that I wish, with your permission, to submit some general observations concerning matters of party policy, party work, party organization and party achievements since the last Convention. When your Executive committee me in this city on the 11th of last December, for reasons then announced and well understood, and which, therefore, need not be repeated now, after due consider of the political conditions then existing in the State, it decided that the campaign in favor of the Amendment should at once open, and directed me as your chairman to open the campaign and prosecute it without interruption until the meeting of this Convention. From that day to this I have given my undivided attention and time to this work. Acting under this command of the committee the work of organization has been persistently pressed in every county. Great volumes of literature discussing and explaining the Amendment, and germane subjects have been scattered broadcast throughout the State. The press of the State, both daily and weekly, without a single solitary exception, has co-operated in this work with your committee, it is but just to say, with a degree of zeal and enthusiasm and helpfulness never before excelled and seldom ever equaled in the history of campaigning in the State. There has been some public speaking, but there has been no regular and systematic attempt at “stumping.” As a result of these combined efforts I am glad to be able to report to you that in every county of the State, with possibly one or two exceptions, our organization is in a state of unusual excellence and efficiency. The people have generally been brought to a correct understanding of the objects and purposes of the Legislature in submitting the Amendment, and what will be its effect when ratified upon the rights of the individual citizen and the general welfare of the State. I do not mean to say that the influence of the falsehoods and misrepresentation which have been promulgated by the opponents of the Amendment have been altogether overcome, but I do mean to say that the leaven of truth and of fact which has thus been put in motion is rapidly leavening the whole loaf and the ready and hearty response of the people to the work that has already been done gives abundant and satisfactory assurance, that when the work which is yet to be done by the press, the candidates of this Convention, candidates of the Sate and Senatorial Conventions, our White Supremacy Clubs, the committees and the legions of individual workers throughout the State – before the election there will be such a coming together of the white people of the State in favor of the Amendment as has never before taken place in favor of any measure submitted to the people: and on the day of the election the white people of the State, irrespective of party, will roll up a majority in favor of White Supremacy, and the candidates nominated by this Convention, which will be absolutely crushing to the advocates of negro rule and negro suffrage.

“When your last State Convention met in this city, two years ago, every department of the State government was in the hands of the Fusionists. Not less than one thousand negroes were holding public offices in North Carolina. The then most influential man in the Republican party, the recognized leader of its 120,000 negro voters: that bright particular star in the Republican firmament, the negro Congressman, George R. White was defiantly inviting the race issue, and insolently declaring that the negroes in North Carolina did not hold as many offices as they were entitled to hold, and demanding in their name that they be given more offices than they then held. We accepted this issue: upon it we went to the people, and they declared that negro rule in North Carolina must and should cease, and negro office-holding in North Carolina must and should stop. Negro rule in North Carolina has ceased  and negro office-holding in North Carolina has practically stopped. There are still some negro magistrates here and there in the Eastern part of the State elected by the Fusionists, whose terms have not expired, but thank God they are not doing any business now. There are still some negro postmasters holding offices in Eastern North Carolina, the appointees of Pritchard and White but there are not so many as there once was: many of them have been sent to the penitentiary for corruption in offices.

“As a result of the election of 1898 White Supremacy has been restored, and we now have White Supremacy in the State. If the white people of the State would always stand together, and vote together as they did in 1898, we would always have White Supremacy without the necessity of a Constitutional Amendment: but the white people will not always stand together and vote together as they did in 1898, and in that way preserve White Supremacy: and if they would always stand together and vote together as they did then upon all public questions, without any reference to differences in opinionand interest, that in itself would be a bad and undesirable condition, both to the individual and to the State, because there can be no healthy growth, moral, intellectual, or material while, while the mind is not free to act as judgment and conscience direct. For the purpose of restoring White Supremacy without making it necessary that white men should always vote together and act together without reference to the impulse of heart and dictates of head, the last Legislature, representing the white manhood and white womanhood of the State submitted the Constitutional Amendment. This Amendment embodies our  plan for establishing White Supremacy upon a permanent basis, and at the same time freeing the mind and conscience of the white man. The way in which it accomplishes this object can be stated in one sentence: It does it by disfranchising the ignorant negro without disfranchising the uneducated white man. This discrimination against the ignorant negro in favor of the uneducated white man we maintain is not violating either the statute or moral law, because it is not discrimination on account of “race, color or previous condition,” but on account of well recognized and essential differences in the moral and intellectual attributes of the two races.

“The Democratic party says, as a result of long trial that the ignorant negro is not fit to vote, and is not entitled to vote because he neither seeks to understand nor is he capable of understanding  the object and effect of the ballot. The Democratic party maintains that the uneducated white men of the State are fit to vote  and are entitled to vote, and intends that they shall vote, because they always seek to understand and they are capable of understanding the object and effect of the ballot. The opponents of the Amendment do not take into account this essential difference between the races. There is a distinction between the ignorant man and the uneducated man, not a fanciful or theoretical distinction, but a real living distinction, and in this distinction is found the foundation principles of our Amendment. The uneducated white man of North Carolina, though he has no book learning, is seldom ever an ignorant man: he is generally well informed: he is generally well posted: he cannot read the newspapers, but he can understand them when he hears them read: he may not be able to discuss questions of finance and tariff, but he understands them when he hears them discussed. He is a man of independence of thought and independence of action. He seeks to understand, and he is capable of understanding the effect of public questions upon him and his interests. He loves his family and his home and his country, and because he loves these before he casts his vote he seeks diligently to understand its effect upon family, home and country, he not only seeks to understand, but he has the capacity of understanding its effect upon these sacred interests. The uneducated white men of North Carolina are good citizens in peace and splendid soldiers in war. The uneducated white men of North Carolina are descended from a race who before the art of reading and writing was known, had established an orderly system of government, the basis of the system under which we no live and the envy of the world. The uneducated white men of North Carolina are descended from a race who, before their proudest chief could read or write had produced orators, statesmen and warriors whose names and fame live in history until this day. The uneducated white men of North Carolina are descended from a race which is today the dominating power in the world: the world’s great civilizer, the world’s great christianizer [sic]: a race of State builders and State constructors: the fear of the oppressors and the hope of the oppressed throughout the earth. The white men of North Carolina are descended from a race which, not only here but elsewhere, not only today, but at all times in their history, have shown their capacity for the ballot and government in their uneducated, as well as in their educated condition. On the other hand, the uneducated negro is nearly always an ignorant man, dull, heavy without opinion, without convictions, with but little judgment and scarcely any independence.

Here some one [sic] in the audience said And [sic] he has no conscience. Mr. Simmons stopped , and turning in the direction of the interrupter, said with solemnity and much firmness, I cannot say that and I will not say that – then proceeding he said – He has comparatively no love of family, home or country, and because he cares little for these, he is indifferent as to the effect of his vote upon them, and therefore, neither seeks to learn nor has the capacity of understanding its effect upon these interests. He is descended from a race, the lowest in order of intelligence and moral perception among the races of men. Sometimes indeed he attains to a measure of civilization, but it is always the result of contact with the white man, and as soon as that contact is withdrawn he rapidly returns to his original condition of barbarism. He is the child-man of the ages. Shall we longer continue this vain effort to preserve political equality between these two peoples made by God so unequal, between this giant of the centuries and this child-man of the dark continent? For thirty-three years we have taxed ourselves in our poverty to educate his children: we have protected him in his life, liberty and prosperity: we have administered to him equal-handed justice in the court house. It is not our purpose to take from him any of these rights or privileges. During these thirty-three years he has been allowed to vote. Some of them have measurably prepared themselves for a reasonably intelligent exercise of the suffrage, but the great mass and body of them have remained as ignorant as in the beginning, and have exercised the ballot only for their own hurt and to the injury of the white man of the State. After this long and patient experiment we now propose to take from this persistently in competent mass the ballot just as we would take a pistol from the hand of a child for his own protection and the protection of the State. We do not do this in anger, but in mercy; we do not do it in the spirt of an enemy, but of a friend; we do not desire to do injustice to the negro: we do not intend to do injustice to the negro;  we are not doing injustice to the negro, but if we cannot do full justice to the white people of North Carolina without doing incidental injustice to the negro, then the law of survival of the fittest must apply. If it be injustice – and we deny that it is – to the ignorant negro to take the ballot from him, it would be a greater injustice to the white men of North Carolina not to do it. There is no equality between the black man and the white man. You cannot make them equal without pulling the negro up to the level of the white man or pulling the white man down to the level of the negro. You cannot pull the negro up to the level of the white man, and what white man wants to see his race pulled down to the level of the negro?

“The Amendment is our plan for removing all possible danger of future negro domination: for establishing upon a permanent basis White Supremacy, and for freeing the white man to the end that he may vote his judgment and convictions upon all public questions. We say it is lawful: we say it is just, and with entire confidence, both in its wisdom and its justice and in righteousness – righteousness to the white man without being unjust to the negro – we submit it, not only to the white people of the State, irrespective of party, but to the judgment and conscience of the world.

Gentlemen of the Convention, it will be the duty of this Convention to appoint delegates to the National Convention of the Democratic party, which will meet in Kansas City, on July 4th. Four years ago, when you met in this city and appointed delegates to the Chicago Convention, there were doubts and misgivings as to what Democracy had come to mean. The party was in the hands of false leaders, who had betrayed its principles; there was doubt as to whether the National Convention, which was to meet that year would adopt the Democratic principle of bi-metallism or the Republican doctrine or gold mono-metalism. There was even doubt as to whether that Convention would have the courage to nominate straight Democrats for the Presidency and Vice Presidency. That great Convention, the most representative of the masses in the history of the party, met the issue squarely, deposed these false leaders, brought the party back to its first principles and re-established it upon the ideals of Jefferson and Jackson. There is now no doubt about what Democracy means or to discuss whether it will be expedient to nominate a straight Democrat for the Presidency, but   to reaffirm the great principles of the party as they live in the hearts of the Democratic masses, and to ratify the nomination which has already been made by the people of that great tribune of the people – William Jennings Bryan.

I bring you a message – it is a message of gladness – I believe I have some little reputations in the matter of prophesying; with a reasonably thorough understanding of the situation – after careful investigation, I am able to say to you that the Constitutional Amendment is safe; that every nominee of this Convention will be elected, and while I cannot venture to speak with certainty about the result in the Nation, I can and do say that the prospect grows brighter and brighter day by day, and if I were not afraid of the joyous disorder which the mention of his name a few minutes ago evoked, I would say that there was abundant reason to believe that William Jennings Bryan will be your next President.

I did not intend to say as much as I have said. I am no speaker of set speeches. As I have proceeded you have encouraged me to say more than I had contemplated saying. If I have spoken too long you are responsible for it and not I.

It is my duty, as I state in the outset to name your temporary presiding officer. In doing that it is also my pleasure to introduce him to you. When you see him you will say he is a young man for such a responsible position. He is indeed young in years, but he is mature in judgment. He is a representative type of the young Democracy of North Carolina, and I could not pay any young man a higher compliment than to say that.

“I now present to you your temporary presiding officer, Mr. E.Y. Webb, of Cleveland.

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Raleigh News and Observer, "Chairman F.M. Simmons' Speech," Raleigh News and Observer, April 12, 1900, Civil War Era NC, accessed July 17, 2024,