Monday, April 23, 2018

the last book I ever read (Benjamin Harrison: The American Presidents Series by Charles W. Calhoun, excerpt eight)

from Benjamin Harrison: The American Presidents Series by Charles W. Calhoun:

Because the Democrats would control the next House, the prospect for election reform during the remainder of Harrison’s term died with the adjournment of the Fifty-first Congress on March 3, 1891. As the months wore on, the “southern question” rapidly faded from American political discourse. On a tour through the South six weeks later, Harrison told an Atlanta audience that each American should “bravely and generously give every other man his equal rights before the law,” but he saw little utility in reopening debate over the Lodge bill. Indeed, a few months later in a speech in Vermont, he acknowledged that “the prejudices of generations are not like marks upon the blackboard, that can be rubbed out with a sponge. These are more like the deep glacial lines that the years have left in the rock; but the water, when that surface is exposed to its quiet, gentle, and perpetual influence, wears even these out, until the surface is smooth and uniform.”

When the new Congress convened in December 1891, Harrison gamely sought to revive the issue. Rather than calling for a reconsideration of the Lodge bill itself, however, he proposed that Congress create a bipartisan commission, to be appointed by the Supreme Court, to investigate ways of “securing to every elector a free and unmolested exercise of the suffrage.” But even this modest proposal had no chance in the Democratic House. In this era, not only blacks’ suffrage rights but their physical safety grew more precarious, and Harrison became the first president to attack lynchings. These perversions of justice, he said, “shame our Christian civilization.” He called upon Congress to enact “the strongest repressive legislation” wherever the practice came under federal jurisdiction but again held not hope for action by the Democrats. And beyond Congress, Harrison’s attempts at moral suasion on the issue had virtually no effect on the course of vigilante violence in the South. Still, even though Harrison failed to change white opinion, he won for himself a place of esteem among the nation’s blacks. “To my mind,” said Frederick Douglass, “we never had a greater President.” Harrison’s efforts for the elections bill “should endear him to the colored people as long as he lives.”

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