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"The Excuses At Washington," Richmond Planet, November 19, 1898


"The Excuses At Washington," Richmond Planet, November 19, 1898


The Richmond Planet, a African American owned, Republican newspaper goes to great length to lay out their argument that the Attorney General John W. Griggs decision that there is no evidence that would warrant any interference by the federal government is incorrect. They lay out examples where the federal government intervened in Illinois. The article also quotes the constitution and how the Attorney General has incorrectly interpreted the Presidents duty to protect citizens rights when the state has failed to do so.


The Richmond Planet


"The Excuses At Washington," Richmond Planet, November 19, 1898.




Koontz, Cindy




Wilmington, North Carolina
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond county, Virginia
New Hanover county, North Carolina


The lawless elements of the south seems to be in “full swing” at Washington. The advisers of the President have decided that in South Carolina, where many America citizens, both white and colored were killed during a national election for congressmen, a reign of terror instituted and the authorities of the law defied that there is no authority under the Constitution and the laws to interfere. This is the declaration as given to the press of the country. We are loth to believe it.
An incidental remark is made that the matter is in the hands of the Attorney-General.
The Attorney-General John W. Griggs wrote to the Assistant United States District Attorney at Anderson S. C., concerning the riots at Phoenix, S. C., and he informed him as follows:
“Several Negroes killed and wounded. One white man killed and several wounded. Thursday there was also some rioting, but condition quieted. ** From all information I have, I think Federal intervention too late now. It seems the mobs were especially anxious to get the Tolberts, and I am informed that they are not safely out of their reach. Intense excitement still prevails there, but no violence now.”
Here is a place where a United [S]tates Collector of Customs is not only assaulted and injured, but is denied the right to return to his home. But this is the way to matter is dealt with:
“The Attorney General had another conference with the President yesterday morning in regard to the matter and the conclusion was promptly reached that as the demonstrations were not directed against the Collector of Customs in the performance of his duties as such the government had no authority under the Constitution or laws to exercise its Federal authority. Collector Toblert was shot while away from his home and on business entirely disconnected from that of this office and under these circumstances the government, it is said, has not a shadow of a right to interfere.
If the Collector had been shot in the discharge of this official duties, and in an effort to enforce the laws of the United States the case would have been very different, and the duty of the of the government would have been clear. In the present case, however, it is said, the lawless act of the mob were not directed against the execution of the laws of the United States, but against the individual. The case would have been the same had Tolbert been shot of the highway as a robber. Administration officials have no sympathy with the Carolina rioters, and regard their acts with abhorrence, but up to this time it is said, there is no evidence that would warrant any interference by the government.”
This is a distinction without a difference. It is the first time that we have heard it stated that an official of the government was not an official from the time he received his commission until the time for which it was given expired.
But yielding that point, he is citizen of the United States. He was wounded while exercising the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. He is denied the right to exercise the functions of his office as Collector of Customs of the United States.
Our point is that the government, not only has the right, but that it is its duty to interfere to protect the lives and property of its citizens.
According to this ruling, the President of the United States must depend upon the local authorities for protection in any section of the country, where he may deem it advisable for him to recuperate. To surround himself with a body guard of any kind would be to exercise a prerogative, not conferred by the laws of this country. He would not be in danger while acting as President of the United States, but as a private citizen.
This may be legal construction of it by apologists, but it will not be construed by those who have taken the time to examine into the matter.
The position of Attorney General Griggs is that of the counsel for the man who was killed by a detective in California, when he was about to make an attack upon the person of one of the United States Supreme Court Justices. The detective had been detailed to protect this official on account of threats previously made.
The matter was contested in the courts with the result that this theory was upset and the detective was never tried upon a charge of murder in the courts of California.
But what about North Carolina? The State Executive is said to have “gone visiting” in a neighboring state, the city government of Wilmington is in the hands of the mob? What about Wilmington, Mr. Attorney-General, what about Wilmington, N. C.?
The preamble of the Constitution of the United States reads:
“We, the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union established justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity etc.”
This then was the purpose of the constitution.
Article XIV reads:
“ * * * nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; not deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This then covers the case in question. Have the TOLBERTS of South Carolina and the city officials of Wilmington been deprived of liberty? Have they been denied the equal protection of the laws? If so, why is it that those who are opposed to them can live in peace and be undisturbed? Why are they not accorded equal protection?
Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States reads:
“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic violence.“
Citizens from South Carolina invaded North Carolina for the purpose of violating the laws of the latter state and to practice murder.
A republican form of government is one in which all of the legal voters,--people are entitled to participate, to vote and be voted for. Has North Carolina that form of government? Presuming that there might be times when the local authorities would not or could act from fear of violence the following statute was enacted:
“Sec. 5,299. Whenever insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combinations, or conspiracies in any State so obstructs or hinders the execution of the laws thereof, and of the United States, as to deprive any portion or class of the people of such State of any of the rights, privileges, or immunities or protection named in the Constitution and secured by the laws for the protection of such rights, privileges, or immunities, and the constituted authorities of such State are unable to protect, or, from any cause, fail in or refuse protection of the people in such rights, such fact shall be deemed a denial by such state of the equal protection of the laws to which they are entitled under the Constitution of the United States; and in all such cases, or whenever such insurrection, violence, unlawful combinations, or conspiracies, opposes or obstructs the laws of the United States or the due execution thereof, or impedes or obstructs the due course of justice under the same, it shall be lawful for the President, and it shall be his duy to take such measures, by the employment of the militia, or the land and naval forces of the United States, or of either, or by other means, as he may deem necessary, for the suppression of such insurrection, domestic violence, or combinations.”
What then does the Attorney-General of the United States mean by this interpretation of the law?
Hon. GROVER CLEVELAND, the Democratic President, under advice of his Democratic Attorney-General, Hon. Richard W. OLNEY of Massachusetts found he could act, for he placed troops in Illinois during the great labor-riots there and this too in the face of the protests of the Governor of that state, whom we believe was ALTGELD. What then is the matter with our Republican Attorney General? No, it is very much as the INDEX_APPRAL says: it is lawful, but is it wise, is it expedient?
But what does all this mean? It indicates that our friendship must be formed at home. That the native born high-spirited, justice loving white men of the states in which we reside must be appealed to whether they be Democrats or Republicans.
The support of this element is worth more than that of the President of the United States.
In these days of practical politics sympathy and friendship must be cultivated in the breast of southern white men “to the manner-born.”
They will use the militia force of the State for our protection a hundred times quicker than the President will the army of the United States for the protection of the flag of the United States abroad.
We have become disgusted with the truckling policy at Washington.
Law? law? we have enough law,--all we need now are the men at the helm of the ship of state with the nerve to enforce it.
Oh for the time when we can say with HOOKER:
“Of Law there can be no less acknowledged, than that her sear is at the bosom of God; her voice, the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth do ‘ er homage the very least as feeling her care and the greatest as not exempted from her power.”


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The Richmond Planet, "The Excuses At Washington," Richmond Planet, November 19, 1898, Civil War Era NC, accessed May 27, 2024,