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"Register Lyons' Ringing Letter." Richmond Planet, November 10, 1898


"Register Lyons' Ringing Letter." Richmond Planet, November 10, 1898


The Richmond Planet, an African American newspaper with Republican leaning, re-printed a letter that Judson Lyons, Register of the United States Treasury wrote and it was originally published in the New York Herald. Lyons defends the Republican by listing the numbers of African American and their positions in the municipal government of Wilmington. He claimed those who witnessed the murders and voluntarily came forward are the same people that committed the murders there words cannot be trusted. Lyons listed the total number of African Americans serving in the legislature and he states that there was no “Negro Domonation.”


Richmond Planet


"Register Lyons' Ringing Letter." Richmond Planet, November 10, 1898.




Koontz, Cindy




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

Original Format

Newspaper Article




The Arguments of the Apologists Demolished.
An Able Defense of the Colored People.---No Negro Rule in the South.


The following letter from the pen of Hon. Judson Lyons, Register of the United States’ Treasury appeared in the New York Herald of Sunday, Dec. 4th. It is the most able defense of the Republican Party in the State of North Carolina in general and the citizens of color in particular that we have as yet read. It will richly repay a careful perusal.

However widespread, ingenious, and complete a scheme may be devised to perpetuate wrong, violate law, take life, and then excuse the crimes by raising the hue and cry that the preservation of liberty demands and the cause of civilization justifies them, yet the truth will out. It cannot long be suppressed; it will not always be crushed; it will not always be crushed; it will be eventually heard and sustained.


And, notwithstanding the alleged high standing of some of the great number of witnesses who have voluntarily come forward in defense of those in the Carolinas who recently not only defied the laws of the country, but offended God in the slaughter of unoffending citizens, the affair ought to be viewed in no other light than as a crime against civilization itself.

It should, and I believe it does, shock the sensibilities of the nation. It puts to shame the laws of the land, and is a server test of our Christian civilization; and unless I miscalculate the power of the sources from which notes of warning protest are emanating, we look hopefully for a correct interpretation of the part of the best judgment of the country of the motives of those who commit as well as of those who defend or excuse a system of murders violence.


At the rate at which a few patriotic newspapers and magazines—publications that are still dedicated to the cause of justice and right—are gathering the facts and laying them before the world, untrammelled by race prejudices and unfrightened by those who disregard human life, the representatives of the lawless mob will be obliged to change their line of defense, or else emboldened by many successes, defy the public by saying in effect: Begone, We care naught for your good opinions.

A few days ago, while the nation, joyous over the magnificent achievement of the American arms, both by land and sea; proud of the fact that those who had most heroically and fearlessly performed duty on the shot-swept hills around Santiago were its black legions, representatives of that race that has been so jealous of the flag in all the history of the past and yet so foully persecuted by an unreasoning prejudice, and while every patriotic heart throbbed with pride as the increasing and accumulating news hourly flashed over the wires told the story that those who had fought triumphantly and those who had so ably and wisely directed their efforts had been given a vote of thanks and of confidence by the American people at the ballot box and in the very midswing of the administration, a harsh and discordant sound was heard from the Carolinas.


In Wilmington, N. C., albeit the Executive, as leader of his party there, had backed down and surrendered everything as a peace offering, and Democracy, if that is what they call themselves, had carried the day, still the main thoroughfares of the city were choked with armed men.
They destroyed personal property, they burned houses, they wantonly took more than a dozen lives, they drove thousands to the words, where nearly a dozen infants were born and died, in many instances with their mothers the victims of exposure, as the result of the cruelty of people who call themselves Democrats and patriots. Weyler in his maddest moments and deeds was hardly more barbarous.


The record of those days immediately following the 8th of November makes me wonder if, after all, we are not mistaken and are not, in fact living in middle ages, with their racks and thumbscrews, instead of in the bright civilization of the closing days of the nineteenth century.
Notwithstanding the fact that those occurences were so shocking and appalling as to deaden the senses, still the first through that comes in the calm is. What caused all this?

We hear it all around that “the blacks were in control of the State—in complete control.” It was “Negro domination, overbearing in its insolence; it could not be endured;” and hence on the cry of “white supremacy” white and black men alike were driven from the State.


Supposing those who are persistently making these assertions to be in possession of the facts that there was not and has never been Negro domination there is only one hypothesis upon which I can account for their reckless temerity and that is that fear and intimidation had effectually closed every avenue through which truth might percolate to contradict them. Well, if this is what they rely upon, in the parlance of the street they are “sold.”

The colored people constitute a little over one-third of the population of North Carolina, and although they have made rapid strides educationally, morally, and materially, yet since they have been freed but a generation, it is nonsensical to think of them rivaling the white citizens of that State in either education or property.


Now, then, as a broad proposition to start out with, I say that, as one man cannot dominate two unless by their consent, and as education and property have always held their own, even when in the minority numerically, certain it is that they would hold sway when in the majority.

This general statement ought to convince the most careless of the utter unreliability of the sweeping charge of “ignorant Negro domination” and in complete control of the State.” It also arouses the suspicion that a great wrong is sought to be excused and condoned under the cloak of race prejudice.


In the Legislature of North Carolina there are 120 Representatives and 50 Senators, making a total of 170. I have the exact figures; there were 7 members of the Houses and 2 Senators—9 colored Representatives, all told in those bodies, not one-eighteenth of the members. Not one in a State office—I mean in the Governor’s Cabinet or an office of that class.

Under this showing there could be no “Negro domination” at Raleigh the capital. One man could not dominate eighteen unless by their acquiescence.


In the city of Wilmington, where so much innocent blood has been spilled and so many valuable lives taken by the furious mob, see what are the facts:

It is said that the city never had a cleaner, more honest, and upright set of officials.

As the crowd which calls itself the Democracy, and which made speeches with Winchesters and scattered campaign literature with rapid firing funs, has never successfully denied this it must be true.


Dr. S. P. Wright, the Mayor, is a white man, said to have a high character and first-rate standing professionally.

There were ten members of the Board of Aldermen; seven of these were white and three colored.

There were twenty-six policemen, sixteen white and ten colored, the chief being white and a native of the state.

City Attorney, a white Republican.
City Clerk and Treasurer, a white Republican, with a colored Republican clerk.
Turnkeys and janitors, white Republicans with a colored assistant.
Superintendent of Streets, a white man.
Superintendent of Garbage Carts, a white man.
Clerk, Front Street Market, a white man.
Clerk, Fourth Street Market, a white man.
Superintendent of Health, a white Democrat.
To lot inspectors, colored men.


The Board of Audit and Finance is composed of five members; three white Democrats one white Republican, and one colored Republican. The clerk of the board is a white Democrat.
Chief of Fire department and Assistant Chief, both with white Democrats.

There are three white fire companies and two colored.

Superintendant of the City Hospital, a white Democrat, with white nurses, for white wards and colored nurses for colored wards.


The school committees have always had two white members and one colored.

Superintendent of Public Schools, white Democrat.

Now, will somebody please point out where that awful thing that is iterated and reiterated so much, to wit, “Negro domination,” existed under this showing in the municipality of Wilmington?

The few places the colored citizens held in recognition of their numerical strength and good citizenship, can be duplicated in several cities in the South, the equal of Wilmington in everything except the disposition to run rough-shod over the defenseless.


As to the Justices of the Pease in the county of New Hanover, it is said that only five of the thirty-six appointed have ever qualified, and not one of that five have ever attempted to exercise the functions of his office by trying a case. I am told that all the business done was transacted by an equally numerous board of Democratic magistrates.

In Phoenix, S. C., where the work of death begun a day and a half or two days before that in Wilmington, there appears to have been no exciting causes whatever.

The constitution of 1895 was conceived, and is daily operated, as Senator Tillman, of that State, boldly avows, to eliminate the colored citizen as a factor at the ballot box; and so through and complete has that instrument been in meeting the design of its framers, that in 189, with 140,000 men of voting age, that constitution cut down the Republican vote to less than 30,000 in the whole State. So intrenched behind sure and secure safeguards are the Tillmanites of South Carolina that the only campaign they have is for the primary of their party; this done, they give themselves, as a rule, no further concern, as the constitution will take care of their opponents at the polls.


In view of these things it is hard to understand what started the Phoenix tragedy. It certainly was not due to the booming of guns in distant Wilmington—300 miles away—for they did not begin their thunder for many hours later. It was not due to the close of an exciting canvass, for there had been none; nor was it due to the irritating and overbearing deportment of Mr. Tolbert, the Republican candidate, in his almost forlorn effort, for he has the reputation of being a man of affairs and a most peaceable citizen.


The Charleston News and Courier perhaps, strikes the nail on the head in its terrible denunciate on the mob when it declares that it was simply the work of the baser elements of the community—killing and destroying without cause, without provocation and without any shadow of excuse.

Another circumstance, intended as a potent extenuation, I presume, of the revolutionary conduct of the Wilmington mob, was the oft repeated claim that the white people paid 95 per cent of the taxes in support of the city government of Wilmington. And by this I suppose it is meant the white Democrats, who accel with or gave sympathy to the revolutionists.


In this connection let me make some comparisons in figures as handed to me by those who ought to be familiar with the tax record of that municipality. The comparative statement handed to me and which I understand the tax records will verify, shows the aggregate taxes of the old (Wright government) board aggregate only $1,835.20, while those of the new (Waddell government) board aggregate only $568.68. On this point I deem comment unnecessary. I only allude to it merely to show that the overthrow of the Wright government was not provoked because irresponsible, non-tax-paying individuals composed it; nor, perhaps was the controlling purpose in supplanting it one to substitute other men more identified with the business interests of that community.

Was it, then, because of Negro domination? Let us see. The city government of Wilmington, N. C., is composed, I am told of a Mayor and a board of ten Aldermen—two from each of five wards; five chosen by the electors of the city, one from each ward; five appointed by the Governor, one from each ward. The recently overthrown government was elected in March, 1897, and was composed of three colored and seven white Aldermen. Thus the full government was made up of the Mayor and ten Aldermen.

The Mayor, Dr. Silas P. Wright, is a white man; so were seven of the ten Aldermen white men, and only three colored men were members of the government. It was Republican it is true, but was it Africanized? There were three Negroes in it, but did they dominate? No, Negro domination was but the Trojan horse and the overthrow of Republicanism in Wilmington and in the State of North Carolina was the primary object, as was the making of it impossible the object in South Carolina.

From the logic of the situation, Congress, I apprehend, will eventually be forced to institute some remedial measures by which the power of the individual ballot will be effective alike in each of the several States of the Union where the election of members to that body or Presidential electors are involved. The country will hardly stand much longer a system of elections in some States of the republic where the effect of the individual vote is equal, in many instances, to ten elsewhere. I believe that the conscience of the nation will demand, sooner or later, such safeguards about the ballot as will guarantee the utmost security to the person of the voter in the attempt to exercise the right of franchise.

Judson Lyons.


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Richmond Planet, "Register Lyons' Ringing Letter." Richmond Planet, November 10, 1898, Civil War Era NC, accessed April 19, 2024,