AT LAST, THE BALLOT
History does not record the preference of Thomas Petersen-Mundy's vote in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, on March 31, 1870.1 Whether he voted for, or against, the municipal charter revision is irrelevant, but the ballot he dropped in the box that day marked the beginning of a new era in American politics. Black suffrage had not become a national issue, provoking a partisan crisis, over the right of African Americans to vote on city ordinances. Rather, Democrats and Republicans alike weighed the possible effect of the black vote for party candidates at all levels, from township offices to the state legislature, Congress and the presidency.
As Radical Republicans took complete control of Reconstruction in 1867, many Democrats feared that African American enfranchisement would create a solid block of black Republican votes, perpetuating Radical rule from the state house to the White House. These Democrats conceded that the black vote would be overwhelmingly, perhaps unanimously, Republican in virtually every election. They intended to thwart black suffrage one way or another.2
While Congress forced black suffrage on the ex-Confederate states in 1867, most of the states that had remained loyal to the Union still denied voting rights to African Americans and seemed unlikely to enfranchise them in the near future. The Republicans declared in their 1868 presidential platform that the question of black voting rights in the loyal states remained a matter for local determination:
Democrats believed that many Republicans opposed black enfranchisement in the North and that the effort to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment threatened to divide the Republican party, a view shared by many Republicans with apprehension.4 Left to the will of individual states, a bipartisan bloc would reject elimination of the "whites only" voting restriction in state constitutions or laws.
The size of the Democratic vote in a tier of states from Rhode Island to Indiana, all of which either prohibited or greatly restricted black suffrage, challenged the Republican party's ability to control state and national government.5 With the Union preserved, swing votes that had been Republican in the midst of a national military/constitutional crisis might turn Democratic over post-war economic matters.6 Furthermore, reunification of pro and anti-secession Democrats weakened Republican chances to carry border states such as Missouri.7
An anticipated 800,000 black ballots in 1872 enhanced the likelihood of continued Republican control of state governments and of state electoral votes in future Presidential elections.8 Without access to 1870 census figures, editor Frank W. Gross of the once Radical Republican but now more mainstream Marysville Appeal calculated that 700,000 of those black voters were in the South, including the border states, and the rest largely in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Ohio. While the black vote failed to influence the recent New York election, Gross predicted a different result in Pennsylvania and Ohio.9
About 450,000 blacks voted in ex-Confederate states in the 1868 presidential election, although Congress refused to allow Mississippi, Texas and Virginia, with perhaps 200,000 additional black voters, to participate in that election. The border states contained another potential 110,000 votes, with perhaps 70,000 in the remaining states.10 The contemporary press estimated between 130,000 and 170,000 African Americans would be eligible to vote in 1872 in previously all-white elections outside the ex-Confederate South.11 An addition of a few thousand votes in Indiana and New York meant the difference between Republican victory and defeat. Indiana Republicans elected a governor in 1868 by a margin of 961 votes, but the potential black vote in that state stood between 6,000 and 8,000.12 In Connecticut, the 1870 state gubernatorial contest went to the Democratic candidate, whose victory by 1,764 votes in the April election resulted in part from a delay in ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment that deprived Republicans of approximately 2,000 black votes. In the 1871 election, with blacks enfranchised, the Republican candidate won by 103 votes.13
Since those states still prohibiting black suffrage were for the most part unwilling to change their election laws to enfranchise blacks, that end could only be achieved through an amendment to the national constitution. An amendment served the dual purpose of allowing Republicans in California, for example, to appease local voters by not advocating black suffrage, while ratification of the amendment by three-fourths of the states would enhance California's Republican vote by ending the "whites only" voter registration requirement. After Grant's 1868 election, which saw Democratic gains in the incoming Congress, Republicans seized the opportunity to force black suffrage on reluctant Northern states by ramming through a constitutional amendment in the closing days of the 40th Congress.14
Enacted rapidly in early 1869, the proposed Fifteenth Amendment quickly became a state issue as legislatures debated ratification. Unable to prevent ratification, Democratic strategy outside the ex-Confederate South turned to an effort to hinder implementation of the new amendment.15 In most cases that took the form of impeding black registration. In Delaware, for example, a loyal border state in which taxation was a prerequisite to registration, the Democratic tax collector in New Castle county stalled black registration by absenting himself from his office, refusing to take tax payments on the street, and failing to provide tax bills to black taxpayers.16 Subsequently, the legislature changed registration laws to make it more difficult for blacks who did not own property to register.17 Democratic registrars deliberately avoided would-be black registrants, intentionally misspelled names, recorded wrong addresses, and engaged in other practices to foil registration.18 Elsewhere registrars simply argued, as did some anti-amendment Californians, that black suffrage, outlawed by state legislation or constitutions, must await official notice from authorities of the amendment's ratification.19
In states where blacks registered without great opposition, as in New Jersey, some Democrats encouraged harassment on election day. The Newark Journal incited whites to intimidate black voters by challenging them at the polls and recording their names and addresses. The Journal charged that a large proportion of black voters were not entitled, "by reason of criminal offenses, to the suffrage they would otherwise have enjoyed."20
In Pennsylvania some registrars required prospective black voters to have two white citizens vouch for them.21 On election day, 1870, a detachment of Marines acted to prevent violence in Philadelphia when white agitators attempted to obstruct black balloting.22 The following year Democratic toughs joined with police to prevent blacks from voting in parts of that city. Three blacks, including African American leader Octavius Catto, died in the ensuing riot.23
Out west, Democratic opposition to black registration and suffrage matched the eastern states for inflammatory rhetoric but stopped far short of physical violence. In Oregon, which stood with California in its refusal to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, "the fear of black suffrage apparently was more prevalent ... than in other western states."24 Yet that state's 346 African Americans, including only 143 adult males in 1870, presented little threat to the balance of power there.25 The total African American population of the state was less than one-tenth of the black population of California.26 But opposition to black suffrage remained strong in Oregon, even though blacks casting ballots in 1870 in their first statewide election did so without encountering violence.27
Some voices within the California Democratic party, as evidenced by the actions and statements of Attorney General Jo Hamilton and the more unreconstructed segments of the state's Democratic press, agreed with those eastern efforts to thwart black registration and voting. Long after nearly all recalcitrant county clerks gave in and registered blacks, while Thomas Mott of Los Angeles and William Morris of Sonoma stood as a distinct minority by continuing to refuse such registration, editor Joseph Walkup of the Democratic Placer Herald steadfastly maintained an intransigent opposition to black suffrage. Walkup, a former California lieutenant governor (1858-1860), insisted that black registration could only take place after passage of Hamilton's "appropriate legislation:"
A second faction of California Democratic politicians and editors argued that enfranchisement of African Americans, whether by state action or by the Fifteenth Amendment, would prove beneficial to their party by driving conservative Republicans into Democratic ranks. They foresaw that for every black who cast a Republican ballot more than one white Republican would desert his party and either not vote at all or would vote Democratic.29
During the Reconstruction process some of these Democrats declared their party a "white man's party," guaranteeing a "white man's government." Editor Robert Ferral rejoiced as Democratic victories outside California mounted in the spring, 1870, elections. "Everywhere the white man's party is marching on to victory."30 The "white man's party" phrase became a staple in the political rhetoric of Delaware's Democratic Senator Willard Saulsbury, and he advised Democrats to use that slogan to draw disaffected Republicans into the Democratic camp. Democrats, he said, could not get the "nigger" vote anyway so they should appeal to those Republicans who were unhappy with their party's attachment to the black man.31
Contending that "every ballot voted by a negro in those States [including California] whose Constitutions forbid negro suffrage is a fraud," Editor B. F. Washington of the San Francisco Examiner predicted that even with black votes the California Republican party faced defeat.
A third group of Democrats, represented in California by Col. Edward Kewen of Los Angeles, urged their party to make a concerted effort to win the black vote despite the prevalent Democratic view that "the party of Lincoln" firmly held it. These Democrats especially sought the black man's vote when it appeared that blacks held the balance of power in a particular election.33 Convinced that Republicans would soon alienate blacks by their failure to live up to African American expectations regarding party positions, patronage or even nomination for office, Democrats who agreed with Kewen made overtures intended to win black support in future campaigns.34
The idea that blacks now held a balance of power in a nation with two parties of almost equal voting strength concerned politicians everywhere. In perhaps the clearest example of such an equilibrium the Republican Stockton Independent reported the outcome of an election in Holland, Michigan, otherwise of no interest to Californians. That contest went to the Republicans by a single vote, with African Americans casting two ballots.35 Philadelphia's blacks, claiming to hold the balance of political power there, reportedly demanded that some places on the ballot be given to them.36 Blacks in Nevada, estimating their strength at 250 voters, also claimed an entitlement to nominations on the Republican ticket.37
While "balance of power" was more critical in that tier of northeastern and midwestern states, even in California it clearly perplexed editors and politicians in both parties. Democratic editor Charles Randall of the Sonora Union Democrat conceded that the black vote, which Randall incorrectly estimated at two or three thousand in California, would initially be almost unanimously Republican. But he foresaw a division in that vote in succeeding elections. While he doubted that blacks possessed strength enough to decide state elections, at the local level the 75 potential black voters in his Tuolumne County "may have a kind of balance of power that will cause all political parties to make efforts to catch their votes."38
Republican James McClatchy's interest in the possible impact of black voters led the Bee editor to reprint articles from Nevada's Gold Hill News and the New York Herald that spoke to that point.39 The Nevada paper claimed that blacks held the political balance of power in California. The Herald, on the other hand, anticipated that Democrats would recognize the permanence of black suffrage now that the Fifteenth Amendment was the law of the land and win enough black votes in coming elections nationwide to neutralize African Americans as a deciding factor.
Edward S. Lippitt disagreed. The Petaluma Republican editor argued that Democratic actions would prevent any significant number of black voters from leaving the Republican party, thereby keeping Republicans in control of the national government indefinitely.40 Gross of the Marysville Appeal predicted that with nearly 700,000 black voters carrying southern states easily for the Republican party, "So far as the popular vote is concerned, the negroes now hold a national balance of power more than twice as great as the popular majority given to Grant in 1868."41
Eagerly anticipating, or dreading, the impact of the African American vote in a closely divided California, Republicans and Democrats alike closely watched post-Fifteenth Amendment elections in other states. Even relatively minor elections in places of little concern to Californians drew attention.42 Republicans won in Cairo, Illinois, where their majority of 306 was accounted for by 363 African American ballots, all reportedly Republican.43 When dispatches indicated that the entire black vote in Dubuque, Iowa, went Democratic, the moderate Republican Chronicle offered this interpretation: "This may indicate that the Ethiopian can change his position, if not his skin."44
California Democrats attributed Democratic statewide election victories in Connecticut, New York, and Oregon to a white backlash against the Radical Republican Fifteenth Amendment.45 While the Democratic Nevada City Daily National Gazette hailed the triumph in Connecticut as "glorious news" and "the hand-writing on the wall to Radicals,"46 the Connecticut "victory" was somewhat tainted since black registration came too late to allow African American participation in the election.47 Although they elected a governor, Connecticut Democrats remained a minority in the legislature.48 With that state's 90,000 ballots almost equally divided between the two parties,49 black suffrage increased the possibility of future Republican victories.50
The California interpretation of the New York vote clearly depended on the politics of the local editor. Democrat Will Green of the Colusa Sun interpreted his party's victory in New York as "an utter want of respect" for the Fifteenth Amendment.
The Sacramento Union explained the Republican defeat in New York as not the result of revulsion against the amendment but unhappiness with Republican economic policies. New York's 15,000 black votes, almost all Republican, were offset by a Democratic majority several times that size.52
The Republican-oriented Stockton Independent charged that New York City Democrats stole the election by using "repeat" voters who fraudulently cast ballots using the names of registered blacks. "[Democrats] were willing to have the negroes enrolled, because it gave their repeaters just that many more names to represent." This situation reportedly led to the arrest of some blacks, charged with attempting to vote twice.53 The Democratic Reporter and the Sonora Union Democrat simply noted that police arrested several blacks.54
African Americans who voted Democratic in New York state were considered newsworthy. Both the Stockton Herald and the Marysville Appeal cited the Rochester election where Democrats wined and dined the handful of blacks who voted Democratic.55 Henry George claimed the only violence in New York took place against blacks who voted for Democrats. When a New York city black voted for the Democratic candidate other blacks allegedly "punched his head."56
The 1870 spring elections in Oregon interested Californians not only because of that state's proximity but because of political similarities. Strong Democratic parties existed in those states prior to the Civil War, and in both the Democrats regained control of the legislature in the late 1860s. States' rights remained a strong theme in the rhetoric of West Coast Democrats as they fought the civil rights amendments. Oregon and California rejected ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, and in each state Democrats continued to fight black suffrage after it became a fact.57
African Americans voted in a Portland, Oregon, school election less than a week after Peterson-Mundy cast his vote in New Jersey.58 When they attempted to vote in the statewide election in June, however, Democrats challenged their votes on grounds that the state constitution limited suffrage to whites. The Oregon Supreme Court rejected that argument, ruling that the Fifteenth Amendment superseded the state constitution.59
Democrats carried Oregon by a few hundred votes, electing both a governor and a legislative majority.60 The Democratic gubernatorial candidate won by 365 votes,61 reversing a Republican victory of 327 votes in 1866. The Democratic legislative majority, however, shrank from the 1868 landslide that had left them just shy of a two-thirds majority.62 The San Francisco Examiner, grossly overestimating Oregon's 1870 black vote at 2000, used that exaggerated figure to explain the reduced Democratic majority in the legislature.63 The Republican Petaluma Journal & Argus also attributed the smaller Democratic victory margin to the effect of the Fifteenth Amendment.64 In fact, the black vote only slightly affected the Republican total.65
While Californians closely followed the elections in Oregon and the east, the press gave special attention to the nomination in those other states of black candidates. In Wilmington, Delaware, Democrats ran blacks for the legislature and for sheriff.66 Several blacks ran in Kentucky on the Democratic ticket.67 The Call reported election of a black justice of the peace and a councilman in Wyandotte, Kansas.68
But the black office seeker of greatest interest to Californians was William Bird, "independent colored" candidate for mayor in the Virginia City, Nevada, May 2 election.69 Although he technically ran as an independent, Republicans universally recognized Bird as a tool of the Democrats, if not in fact the Democratic nominee, when he announced his candidacy in early April.70 Once a resident of California, Bird participated in black civil rights activities there in the 1850s and 60s.71 The Bee initially refused to call Bird black, labeling him "quite yellow - a mulatto in fact,"72 but later referred to him as the "colored, independent candidate"73 running against a white Republican.
The more outspokenly partisan Democratic editors, such as Robert Ferral of the Sonoma Democrat, largely ignored the race. Ferral's relentless opposition to black suffrage was inconsistent with endorsement of any black candidate, even a Democrat. Republican papers, however, made great sport of the black Democrat. The Bee claimed he had always been a Democrat, even during the Civil War.74 The Marysville Appeal denounced the "colored barber" for daring to run:
Initially Bird's chance of election was "thought to be good."76 Though defeated, Bird polled over one-third of the vote, losing 603-320.77 The margin of victory for the rest of the Republicans running for city-wide offices was over 700 votes, indicating that Bird ran ahead of other Democratic candidates.78
Both Republican and Democratic editors agreed that Bird's support came solely from whites.79 Virginia City's Republican Territorial Enterprise doubted that Bird received a single black vote other than his own, and suggested that those white Republicans who voted for him - perhaps a dozen - did so by mistake. If that was the case, Bird did extremely well considering the large victory margin for the Republican slate. The same paper, elated by the fact that Democrats could support him, took that as "cheering evidence of progress" in the Democratic party.80
Philip Bell's Elevator, the voice of California's black community, derided Bird's campaign as an attempt by Democrats to win the black vote but rejoiced that "colored patriots" voted Republican and he lost.81 Said the Chronicle: "Painting Democratic candidates black won't catch Black Republican votes."82
On the Democratic side, Henry George urged his "colored friends" to note that "The party of equal rights [voted] solidly against the first one of their color put up for office on the Pacific coast."83 To which Bee Editor McClatchy replied: "And we ask the Democracy to make a note of the fact that their brethren of Virginia City put up a black man for Mayor and voted for him!"84 Added the Nevada City Transcript: "Negro suffrage don't appear to these Democrats half so black as they pretend it."85
Ferral of the Sonoma Democrat sneered that
McClatchy, writing before reports came in of black Democratic candidacies in eastern states, pointed out that only Pacific Coast Democrats voted to place blacks in office. "How does the Democrat account for that?"87
A) CALIFORNIA'S FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTERS: SAN JOSE
San Jose's municipal election on Monday, April 11, marked the Fifteenth Amendment's first test in California. Elections in several other communities soon followed, with blacks eager to participate. Assuming that county clerks cooperated and permitted their registration, existing state law regarding voter registration technically still prohibited them from voting in the April contests. The Registry Act required new voters to enroll no later than thirty days before an election,88 and a question arose as to the legality of black balloting in an election that took place within those thirty days.
In Connecticut, where the statewide election also took place before African Americans could register in time to cast ballots under that state's law, authorities disallowed black participation.89 That contradicted what occurred at Perth Amboy. Using that city as an example, the Call urged San Jose officials to resolve the issue in favor of the newly enfranchised voters. While recognizing that election officers might successfully refuse to accept such ballots without incurring prosecution, the editor argued that "it is better for all parties to recognize and accept at once the fact that colored men everywhere in the United States have been enfranchised, and are entitled to the suffrage on precisely the same conditions as the whites."90
San Jose Mercury editor James J. Owen, a staunch advocate of black rights, claimed in an editorial written shortly after Grant's ratification proclamation that "of course" colored voters would take part in the city's coming election, with their names on the Great Register and poll list. "Their influence as effecting the count will certainly be felt."91
As the election neared, black activist Zebediah J. Purnell challenged Frank Stewart, San Jose's champion of white superiority, to debate the proposition: "African negroes are mentally, physically and socially incapable of exercising that higher right and manifest result of civilization - self government."92 In turn, Stewart challenged editor Owen to debate the inferiority of the colored races and tribes. Owen, in a lengthy editorial, indicated his willingness to debate, but if either debate took place the press failed to report it.93
On election day, blacks cast between 30 and 50 of the approximately 1,236 ballots.94 Voting for a mayor, councilmen and other city officers,
Democrats won the mayor's office by 12 votes, while Republicans swept all other offices except one council seat. The Republican majority in those races ranged from 41 to 156 votes.96 Consequently, the black vote could have played a decisive role in the election of only one Republican, the candidate for school superintendent, who won by 41 votes. As a result, even though they won only two of the contests the Democrats considered the outcome a victory.97 The press reported no intimidation of black voters, nor did newspaper accounts of disorderly conduct or intoxicated voters make any reference to blacks.98 Several visitors from Sacramento and San Francisco witnessed the election process, but whether they came specifically to observe the first of California's African American voters remained unclear.99
The Republican victory might have been narrower had not an undetermined number of Democrats "sagaciously refused to vote because `niggers' were permitted to exercise that privilege."100
Referring to the Democratic boycotters, the Chronicle joked that "This is a peculiarly smart way to elect Democratic candidates."102
The Oakland Transcript, described by the Bee as a "fiercely Democratic" paper,103 denounced those Democrats who refrained from voting in San Jose, arguing instead that the party ought to cultivate the black vote:
It may be safely stated that any party which depends entirely upon principle and fair dealing with political opponents, will never achieve success. Certain maneuvers are justifiable. For instance, it would be perfectly fair for the Democrats to attempt to secure at least a portion of the negro vote at the coming elections. We do not think they are too honest to attempt this, but their actions show that they are not adopting the proper means to secure this end. Prejudice must be abandoned. The negroes are voters now, General Jo. Hamilton to the contrary notwithstanding.... In the Southern States the negroes have exercised the right of suffrage ever since the close of the war. The Democrats, or conservatives, accepted the situation and endeavored to make the most of it. The result has been they have carried the election in Tennessee. The example is a good one. The `Radical's' love for the negro is traceable to his desire to secure his vote. Remaining away from the polls because the negro is allowed to vote, is a very foolish policy.
Some of the Democrats of San Jose were guilty of this conduct. What is its result? Why, it insures a defeat. You give your enemy a stick to break your own head with.... Omaha was a Democratic city in fact, but went Republican; on account of just such foolish actions as we have above alluded to.104
San Jose Democrats who refused to participate in an election with blacks were not alone. Isolated cases of Democratic boycotts occurred elsewhere in California and across the nation. Some whites, usually Democrats, refused to take part in bi-racial elections in the belief, as Forrest Wood noted, that by so doing they gave tacit acquiescence to racial equality. Others could not bring themselves to line up beside blacks at the polls, or saw non-participation as a protest to the Fifteenth Amendment.105 The resulting loss of Democratic voters because of black suffrage must have disturbed party pundits who had predicted a surge of Republican voters into Democratic ranks.
Following the election several editors, in keeping with the almost universal practice of printing ethnic jokes, reported an exchange that allegedly occurred between two San Jose voters, one white and one black.
A week after the San Jose election, black voters cast ballots in Petaluma, in the heart of Barclay "brad-awl" Henley's Sonoma County. Despite the fact that the county clerk refused to register blacks, they participated in the city election anyway. Republican supporters of black suffrage justified their right to vote on grounds that ratification of the amendment "repealed" the state's Registry Law. Some Democrats also made that argument, for an entirely different purpose. In an effort to create fear over the effect of the Fifteenth Amendment, they argued that Chinese and Indians now qualified to vote since ratification voided the registration law, which prohibited their voting. Either way, registration was now unnecessary, or so Petaluma's Republican editor argued. He further predicted that:
Fourteen black voters turned out for the April 18 election.108 Unlike the passive acceptance of black suffrage in San Jose, Democratic party representatives in Petaluma challenged each black voter at the polls. But all "swore their votes in" and election officials counted their ballots.109 Out-of-county papers reporting the Petaluma election gave it only a brief line or two, most repeating the same sentence: "Everything passed off quietly."110
Despite his earlier prediction that Democrats would seek the black vote, Petaluma Journal & Argus editor Lippitt reported that some voters were ready to join their San Jose partisans in boycotting future elections:
But Lippitt noted, without further explanation, that some Petaluma Democratic candidates won with the support of black votes.112
The rabidly partisan Sonoma Democrat continued to praise the clerk for not registering blacks in that county. "Let it be understood, far and near, that negroes are not permitted to register as voters in Sonoma county."113 When they voted without registration in the Petaluma election, editor Ferral observed:
Apparently having overlooked press references to black votes already cast in the eastern states, San Francisco correspondent "Falstaff" mistakenly increased the significance of the recent California elections:
Just as the San Jose election stirred the political humorists, so did the one in Petaluma, where they retold the "joke" in the customary dialect.
C) NEVADA COUNTY
While black voters in San Jose cast ballots within a week of registering, and those in Petaluma voted without the formality of registration, African American participation in Nevada County's May elections faced a more serious obstacle. Nevada County Clerk J. J. Rogers followed an ambivalent course regarding registration, first permitting it, then prohibiting it after receiving Attorney General Hamilton's lengthy explanation why registration should not take place. Despite that, he resumed registration within a few days and by mid-April over fifty African Americans registered in the county.
Although editor Ferral claimed that placement of a name on the Great Register was not necessary to vote in a local election, officials in other counties not only required that the voter be on the Great Register but that the name also be on the local poll list. While placement on the poll list usually occurred automatically upon registration, local officials in Democrat-dominated Grass Valley refused to add the names of blacks to the list.117
City elections, referred to as charter elections, took place on the first Monday in May (May 2) in both Nevada City and Grass Valley.118 In Republican-dominated Nevada City a local Board of Registration was appointed at the beginning of April119 and the names of the fifteen registered blacks appeared on the poll list without controversy. The Democratic-minded election officials in Grass Valley, however, refused to place blacks on the town's poll list even though they were legally registered.120
Section 28 of the Registry Act provided a means for citizens whose names appeared on the Great Register but not on the poll list to be sworn in upon presentation of supporting evidence.121 As a result, one African American made direct application to the Grass Valley Board of Registration, which first chose to wait for an opinion from the State Election Board. The Nevada City Transcript editorialized that since the county's Great Register included their names they deserved a place on the list without waiting for state action.122
At that point the Grass Valley board insisted that prospective black voters produce registration certificates from the county clerk. Determined to vote, Grass Valley's African Americans sent Isaac Sanks, an influential local black, to the clerk's office in Nevada City to obtain the necessary certificates so that each registrant could demand his enrollment on the local polling list.123
By April 22, seven of the fifteen African Americans registered in Grass Valley, only a fraction of the anticipated black voting strength in that city, filed requests to be placed on the local list in time for the May election.124 The San Francisco Bulletin estimated the number of Grass Valley's potential black voters, as opposed to those who were registered, at 40.125 Isaac Sanks, reportedly "well informed" about the size of the black vote there, placed the number eligible to register in the city at thirty to forty.126 Whatever the size of the African American vote, the Grass Valley Daily Union remarked that "In the coming struggle for town offices, the colored vote will be a power."127 On April 29, three days before the election, names of all fifteen black registrants finally appeared on the Grass Valley poll list.128
But the battle for black registration was not the only story in the Nevada county elections. Even before county clerk Rogers opened the register to blacks the first time, the Daily Union reported that Jacob Sanders declared his candidacy for Grass Valley town trustee, the first African American to seek office in California after ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment.129 Daily Union policy required a five dollar fee to announce candidacies, even without an endorsement.130 The paper failed to clarify whether Sanders' candidacy qualified as a news item or paid advertising.
Other papers picked up this story of the African American entry into California politics. In Weaverville, the Trinity Journal briefly noted that "a `culled pussen'" sought office in Grass Valley.131 The Bulletin, 132 repeating the Daily Union's story, named Sanders as a candidate for town trustee. The Chronicle's version differed significantly: two colored men, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, sought the office of city marshal in Grass Valley.133
The Chronicle apparently based its erroneous account on the same information that appeared in various forms in other papers. The Sacramento Union indicated that Democrats invited a black to run on their ticket.134 A. M. Morse, who served not only as editor of Nevada City's Democratic journal but was also Nevada County Superintendent of Schools,135 was in a better position to know potential candidates than others. Nearly three weeks before the city election, but after the Chronicle and Sacramento Union stories appeared, Morse decried the lack of candidates for local offices and placed the potential black marshal candidates in Nevada City, not Grass Valley.
Despite these predictions, none of the thirteen registered blacks stepped forward as candidates in Nevada City. Instead, less than a week before the Nevada City election a town meeting, announced as non-partisan, took place to nominate candidates for local office.137 A slate of five trustee candidates, presented by a nominating committee, contained only white Republican names. Editor Morse complained in print that the Democrats were either overlooked or ignored.138 In response, the Democrats, outnumbered in town elections about three to one for several years, nominated their own, all-white slate.139
At a second "citizens meeting" held on Sunday, May 1, the day before the election, Republicans attempted to unite behind one of their three candidates for marshal. Before a vote was taken, one of the three withdrew. Rather than seek nomination of a black, African Americans attending the meeting threw their support unanimously to Lawrence Nihell, who won the party's endorsement with 60 votes from the approximately ninety Republicans present. Noting that the caucus met in a former Christian hall, and on a Sunday, Democratic editor Morse could not restrain himself:
In his election day edition, published that evening, Morse wrote that "colored citizens were on hand early this morning to cast their maiden vote."141 He added, with a degree of sarcasm, that "Much curiosity was manifested to know how `Commodore Perry,' the leader of the colored population, would vote. We could not learn, as we went to press, into which scale the `Commodore' threw his tremendous strength." Perry Boardly, not known as a black activist, was born a slave in Maryland, purchased his family's freedom, and migrated to Massachusetts before coming to California.142
The black voting strength caused the Republican Transcript to remark, in contrast to those who predicted that black suffrage would cause white voters to boycott the polls, that
Nevada City Republicans won all offices, with a majority of about 75 votes, polling twice as many votes as the Democrats.144 That, however, was far less of a majority than Republicans had enjoyed in earlier years, leading Morse to conclude that
Morse followed that with a second editorial forecasting African Americans as a growing force within the Nevada County Republican party and an omen of trouble that destined to beset white Republicans.
In nearby Grass Valley the expected black candidacy for elective office failed to materialize. Jacob Sanders publicly withdrew from the race in mid-April in a note to the Grass Valley Daily Union in which he said "most emphatically that he is not a candidate."147
Morse was in Grass Valley early on election morning. In that evening's edition, referring to the city's first election in which blacks voted, he remarked that "Prominent Republicans were particularly zealous in hand-shaking with the dark element of power now beginning to assert itself, fo' shuah."148
In heavily Democratic Grass Valley, where about 450 ballots were cast, three Democrats split the vote for marshal, allowing the Union (Republican) candidate to win with a 58 vote plurality. His three Democratic rivals, however, outpolled him by 37 votes. Republicans also elected one of the two trustees, again by 58 votes.149 Consequently, the handful of African American voters had no influence in determining the outcome.
Almost completely overlooked in publication of the election results, and not mentioned by any of the papers in their election analysis, was the fact that two of the eleven Grass Valley candidates receiving votes for trustee were black. Sanders, despite his earlier withdrawal, received 4 votes while Isaac Sanks, never mentioned as a possible candidate, received 2.150 Only the Daily Transcript, in a simple listing of candidates and their votes, called attention to the black candidacies, noting in its election results that both Sanders and Sanks were "(colored.)"151 While it is unlikely that the names of Sanders and Sanks were actually printed on the ballots, they nonetheless deserve mention as the first California blacks receiving votes for elective office in the aftermath of the Fifteenth Amendment.152
D) THE OTHER SPRING LOCAL ELECTIONS
Numerous municipal elections took place the on same day as those in Grass Valley and Nevada City. While a handful of blacks were registered in at least some towns, press reports in the state's major newspapers made little reference to their trek to the polls.153 Local papers, however, recorded the event, sometimes in a single sentence. Editor Will Green simply referred to the two blacks who voted in Colusa as "disciples of the Fifteenth Amendment."154
In Siskiyou County, Yreka voters chose school trustees on Saturday, April 30, and town officials on the following Monday. Initially, local authorities appeared unwilling to allow black participation in either election because, as in Connecticut, the amendment's ratification came too late. While the president and secretary of state both formally announced ratification on March 30, barely in time for new voters to register in compliance with the state law requiring registration thirty days before election, notification did not reach Yreka until the evening of April 4 via a copy of the Sacramento Union. Since voters who turned 21 on an election day could legally vote, editor Robert Nixon of the Trinity Journal argued that the same rule should apply with regard to all blacks who were otherwise eligible to vote.155 Despite the threat of Democratic party challenges, Yreka's blacks voted in both elections without incident.156
At Stockton, which held a special railroad subsidy election on April 15, the city's registered blacks did not vote. On May 2, however, they turned out in large numbers, casting approximately sixty of the 1475 ballots.157
Stockton's African American voters faced a minor dilemma on election day. The Republican nominating convention had endorsed the Fifteenth Amendment. However, the Sonora Union Democrat described the party's candidate for mayor, George Evans, as a man who would have detested such an amendment a few years earlier but now, for political purposes, accepted the new order. Furthermore, there was no indication that blacks participated in the nominating convention.158 Democrats, on the other hand, had actively opposed black registration despite ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. Evans and his Republican slate carried the election, winning most of the contested races.159 Blacks cast their votes almost solidly Republican, although one African American reportedly voted Democratic.160
One consequence of the Fifteenth Amendment was a Democratic snub of Stockton's ballot box. According to the Reporter, about 100 Democrats who boycotted the election contributed to the Democratic defeat. While giving no reason for this refusal to vote, the press made reference to similar registration and election boycotts elsewhere by Democrats in opposition to black suffrage.161
African Americans participated in one other town election. In late April Placerville's Democrats won for the first time in a decade. Henry George attributed their victory to the Fifteenth Amendment, "which sent a good many old Republicans over to the Democratic side."162 Placerville's small black vote failed to save the Republicans.163
E) SAN FRANCISCO
With over one-third of the state's registered African American voters in San Francisco, that city's first election after ratification promised to become a show piece for black suffrage. Since no municipal election occurred there that spring, the first opportunity for black voters came in a special election held on June 7. In mid-year several counties held elections seeking voter approval of construction subsidies for new railroad lines. San Franciscans were asked to grant a subsidy of $1,000,000 to the Southern Pacific. By election day the Great Register contained the names of at least 380 blacks.164 Elevator editor Bell alerted his readers to their first opportunity to vote,165 and Chronicle editor Charles de Young observed that election day
Workingmen divided on the subsidy question, but the majority, primarily Democrats, opposed it, fearing that in the long run it would bring more Chinese to the state for construction of the line.167 African American leader Peter Anderson168 advised blacks to vote for the subsidy.169 His endorsement, contained in a lengthy opinion piece submitted to the San Francisco Bulletin, was not printed, allegedly for lack of space.170 Bell's Elevator, however, opposed the grant to the railroad and urged the city's first-time voters to exercise their newly-won right by turning down the subsidy.171
Despite Bell's opposition and the Chronicle's prediction, most newspapers agreed that black voters almost without exception followed Anderson's recommendation and voted in favor of the subsidy, many of them actively working for its adoption. The Alta commented extensively on black participation on election day:
A wire report, printed in newspapers throughout the state, took special pains to comment on the black turnout on election day. Noting that blacks voted for the first time in the city, the telegraphic dispatch recognized the public's concern with possible violence resulting from the casting of ballots by African Americans: "They were not molested in any manner."174
That San Francisco's African Americans looked upon their maiden use of the ballot as a solemn occasion was reflected in a Chronicle editorial, which not only praised blacks for understanding the ballot's importance but used the opportunity to belittle women suffragists:
Those early reports, indicating defeat of the subsidy, elicited gleeful editorials from anti-railroad editors. Referring to William (Billy) Carr, leading political power behind the railroad's subsidy attempt, Henry George wrote that "Even the darkies could not save him."176 Acknowledging that blacks generally cast votes for the subsidy, George speculated:
That the railroad monopoly held black votes in its pocket became the subject of a letter from San Francisco, published by George:
George's elation at the subsidy's defeat rested on the first report by election officials showing that the subsidy lost by 124 votes.179 Within a week the Board of Supervisors recounted the ballots, giving the Southern Pacific a 62-vote victory. The difference resulted from the nature of ballots in that era. Voters took ballots already printed either "Yes" or "No," and cast them accordingly. Some voters, reportedly workingmen who had taken "No" ballots, scratched out that position and wrote in "Yes." Election officials refused to honor pencil marks and counted the ballots as printed - "No." The Supervisors honored the voters' change of mind and counted them as "Yes."180
While the number of blacks who voted was not estimated by the press - not even in the black-published Elevator - it is likely that in this first opportunity to cast a ballot a sufficient number of African Americans voted for the subsidy to account for the favorable majority announced by the Supervisors. If the count as released by election officials immediately after the election was correct, however, even an almost solidly supportive black electorate was not sufficient to overcome the subsidy's opponents. The importance of the black vote as a "balance of power" in San Francisco remained elusive.
Perhaps the editor of the Alta California best summed up black participation in their first San Francisco election. In a brilliant piece entitled "The Wonders of the Ballot," the Alta noted the surprising transformation of the black man from a pariah to "one of us."
A wonderful contrivance is the ballot. Place it in a man's hand and, presto, it will work the most extraordinary changes in regard to him. It will settle beyond question the fact that he has a soul. No matter how poor, degraded or oppressed he may be, it will get him on his legs. Prejudice of race disappears before it like mists before the morning sun. With that piece of paper in his possession, the chattel of yesterday becomes the "man and brother" of to-day. By its mysterious operation a black skin loses all its repulsiveness; woolly hair becomes a singularity, not a symbol of inferiority, and the crooked tibia is measurably straightened....
And this though his complexion has undergone no change, nor had the kink at all abated in his wooly [sic] hair. The explanation of the phenomenon is merely that he had now the ballot. The Fifteenth Amendment was the trumpet blast which has called him to the exercise of the full function of manhood. Who knows that before long when the importance of "catching the negro vote" is fully recognized, but that the parties who have been foremost in the assertion that the negro, because he differs from us in certain physical characteristics, was created to be a slave, will be endeavoring to prove that wool is the highest development of hair, and that flat noses are the true test of physical and intellectual superiority?... [H]e has reached this distinction mainly because it was discovered a few years ago that he is just as competent to stop a bullet as the noblest Aryan of us all.181
F) AFRICAN AMERICAN POLITICAL CLUBS
The interest of California's African Americans in political matters preceded the Fifteenth Amendment. Several of California's black leaders - Mifflin Gibbs, David W. Ruggles, and Jeremiah B. Sanderson, among others - participated in the convention movement in eastern states before the Civil War, agitating primarily for abolition, non-extension of slavery and protection of fugitive slaves.182 The state's black community held its own conventions in the 1850s and 1860s, concentrating on statewide issues of importance to California's free blacks: rights regarding education, testimony, public accommodations and even suffrage.
Their influence, however, was diminished by the fact that without the ballot they exerted little political clout. Friendly politicians presented their petitions, such as those on the highly restrictive testimony law, to the legislature, almost always without success. Frequently the petitions were rejected out of hand, sometimes with slurs from legislators who resented what they saw as the presumptuous attitude of the black petitioners.183
At the local level, particularly in San Francisco where a black press existed, African Americans met as needed in response to community problems. By 1870 a formal association, a local branch of the national organization frequently referred to as the Executive Committee,184 directed the ethnic community in its fight for civil rights, the celebration of the voting rights amendment's ratification and, after ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, efforts to overcome the obstacles presented by reluctant registrars. The registration fight, however, was largely between white Republicans and white Democrats, with protests from the black community significant primarily as an indication of the importance that blacks attributed to the extension of suffrage.
Bickering within the ranks hampered the San Francisco organization's effectiveness. Two major factions, each led by a prominent black editor - Peter Anderson and Philip Bell - quarreled publicly at meetings, to the consternation of Republicans and the joy of white Democrats. In May they argued over creation of a separate high school for blacks.185
In March and April a new type of black organization - political action clubs - appeared in Sacramento, San Jose, and San Francisco.186 Independent of each other, these clubs functioned much like the earlier black organizations except that they now possessed bargaining power associated with the ballot. Unlike their predecessors, in which women played a role even though a relatively minor one, they appear to have been all-male because females remained disfranchised.
The first California political organization, San Francisco's "Excelsior Union Republican Club," adopted its constitution in March, in anticipation of the amendment's ratification. For leadership, the club turned to a prominent black educator-clergyman, William B. Serrington, and to John A. Barber. While Anderson served as a member of the finance committee, Bell was not listed among the officials of the organization.187
Sacramentans organized on Monday, April 11, two days after the first blacks were allowed to register in that county. Their Eureka Union Club carried a name that implied an allegiance to the Republican party.188 At the time the club organized, black registration in the county already numbered 45.189 Sacramento papers largely ignored the club's formation, and with no elections affecting city voters that spring no further news of the club appeared in the local press.190
The Charles Sumner Club of San Jose, also organized in early April,191 claimed membership of every African American voter in the city.192 San Jose, unlike Sacramento, held an election that spring, but it took place so quickly after the first blacks registered that the club played no role in the campaign. Following the election, the club held regular Monday night meetings in a local black church, debating several current issues: "Resolved, That Chinese immigration is injurious to the colored people as a class;" "Resolved, That women should be granted the right of suffrage;" "Resolved, That the black and white races should be educated together at the public schools." The membership agreed that Chinese immigration harmed blacks, and opposed both woman suffrage and integration of the public schools.193
Public school integration was an immediate problem in San Jose and in other cities in the state, prompting the Sumner Club debate. In late April Willette Smith, "a colored girl," created excitement in San Jose when she applied for admission to the grammar department of the public school.194 In Los Angeles, black children were denied admission to the public schools. The trustees offered to provide a separate school and to hire competent teachers, but the city's black residents found that unacceptable, apparently not sharing the view of San Jose's blacks on the question of integrated schools.195
In May, San Francisco's city board of education rejected Peter Anderson's plea for a colored high school, arguing that nothing prevented blacks from attending high school provided they met the requirements.196 An African American public meeting on May 21 considered a series of resolutions, including one to censure Anderson for his action, a condemnation suggested by Philip Bell in an Elevator editorial. Bell, who was present at the public meeting, had written that Anderson acted on his own, had no children in the schools, was not a taxpayer or property owner, and in the past had influenced the board of education to establish black schools in undesirable locations. After some debate, the resolutions, apparently amended to delete the censure, carried overwhelmingly.197
That same month the local executive committee of the older civil rights group called San Francisco's African American community together to hear addresses on "the duties and responsibilities of colored Americans." Toward the end of the meeting an Anderson protege arose in the back of the house and, over objections from Bell, presiding officer and President of the Executive Committee, read a letter from Anderson protesting the committee's call for a West Coast convention of blacks. A motion endorsing Anderson's protest, based on the absence of any public demand for such a convention, brought Bell's resignation as chair of the meeting. J. E. M. Gilliard, who had been one of the main speakers, assumed the role of presiding officer and, amid heated debate involving partisans of both Anderson and Bell, adjourned the meeting.198
With these internal bickerings as a backdrop, San Francisco's Excelsior Union Republican Club met in late May. While the meeting began with a small audience, a large crowd nearly filled the auditorium before the end of the evening. The principal speaker was a white Republican, Thomas B. Shannon. The former Radical Republican congressman from California and Surveyor of the Port addressed his audience on the advancement of black rights since the early 1860s, attributing that improvement to their two "Moses," Grant and Lincoln. He urged the re-election of Grant as a means of securing the benefits accruing from emancipation and the three Reconstruction amendments.199
While Shannon was the main speaker, the remarks of Rev. John R. B. Morgan, a black veteran of the Civil War, drew the attention of both the Alta California and Henry George's Reporter. Morgan's criticism of San Francisco's Irish workingmen reflected an animosity that was hardly hidden in the debate over black civil rights in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Call's account of the meeting made no reference to Morgan's comments about the Irish, noting only that he "gave an interesting account of the last great battle of the Rebellion, and was repeatedly cheered by his audience."201 Nor did the Chronicle report Morgan's remarks, only those of Shannon, dismissing Morgan's speech with the comment that space limitations precluded publishing his comments at length, but adding that he was expected to "do some tall stump speaking" for the Republicans in the next presidential campaign.202
In his report of the speech, published the day after the Chronicle's version, George sarcastically added a postscript at the end of Morgan's diatribe against the Irish, apparently joining the Chronicle in suggesting that the Republican State Central Committee should employ Morgan to stump the state during the next election.203 George, who depicted Mississippi's black U. S. Senator Hiram Revels as a bumbling, illiterate speaker, had also urged the Republicans to put Revels on the stump.204
G) INDIANS AGAIN
Morgan's attack on the Irish was but one example of continuing ethnic conflict over the right to vote. Throughout the spring of 1870, as blacks registered and cast their first ballots, Democrats continued to raise the specter of Indian and Chinese suffrage under the Fifteenth Amendment. At first glance their motives appeared unclear. Sometimes Democratic editors seemingly took a civil rights stand in support of Indian suffrage, arguing their constitutional right to vote. It is unlikely any of them believed such a right existed, or would have advocated Indian suffrage absent the Fifteenth Amendment. Their constitutional argument contained the hint that neither Republicans nor Democrats really wanted Lo205 to vote, but having pushed through the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments Republicans stood responsible for extending, intentionally or not, immediate suffrage to Indians.
Will S. Green, Democratic editor of the Colusa Sun, stated it clearly:
Concern over Indian suffrage was a western mania, not confined solely to California. In both Oregon and Nevada, the only other states in the Far West at that time, the effect of the amendments on extending voting rights to Indians drew comment from editors and politicians. The Oregon Herald claimed all Indians on Oregon reservations would vote Republican in the next election.207 But in all the west the fiercest denunciation of Indian suffrage arose in California's central section, from San Francisco to the Mother Lode.
California editors, regardless of party, made no attempt to distinguish one local tribe from another. In the suffrage debate, all California Native Americans were "Digger" Indians.208 When referring to Indians in the eastern states, they distinguished Cherokees from Creeks, and conceded that in those cases there existed a degree of civilization attained by the natives that might qualify them for both citizenship and the ballot. Not so with California's "Diggers."
Delegates to the Monterey Constitutional Convention in 1849 debated the question of Indian suffrage.209 A small number supported suffrage for "civilized" Indians, while several others would extend the right only to "descendants" of Indians, meaning individuals who were part white. At one point a majority adopted a clause excluding all Indians from the ballot box. As finally written, the suffrage section limited the ballot to adult, white, male citizens, although a proviso permitted the legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to extend suffrage to "Indians or descendants of Indians," implying that those who were part Indian did not have the right to vote under the new constitution.210
During the congressional debate over enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869 the question of Indian suffrage rarely came up. Neither senators nor representatives considered it significant, and it arose only as an aside, given far less consideration than the issue of Chinese suffrage.211 Democrats argued during the 1869 state election that the Fifteenth Amendment would "make every Digger Indian a voter"212 and they pursued that argument during the subsequent ratification hearings in Sacramento.213 Even after Grant's ratification proclamation they continued to raise the specter of Indian suffrage, primarily as a means of attacking Republicans whom they blamed for opening the ballot to Indians.
The number of potential Indian voters in the state was unclear since the controversy took place prior to the census of 1870. The Secretary of the Interior estimated the total number of California Indians at 26,139,214 six times the black population and about half the number of Chinese in the state. His assumption was fairly close to the census figures released later that year, but by then the question of Indian suffrage had largely abated.
The 1870 census counted 29,025 Indians in California, of whom 7,241 were "civilized" and living outside a tribal relationship. Theoretically, adult males within that latter group could vote under the amendment if the state's "whites only" constitutional clause was now illegal. Of the remaining 21,784, at least 1,966 were adult males although the census report also included an additional 16,000 Indians, undifferentiated by sex or age, labeled "nomadic" or unclassified. Based on the census figures for those Indians still on reservations and at agencies, approximately one-third of California's Indians were adult males. Assuming the correctness of that figure, the potential Indian vote would have been about 10,000 if the amendment enfranchised all adult males.215
A large portion of the state's Republican editors rejected Indian suffrage on grounds that Indians, unlike blacks, were not citizens of the United States and therefore not entitled to vote. They charged that Indians were not and never had been "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States, a key Constitutional phrase opponents of Indian suffrage raised repeatedly. Since Indians were not subject to American law, taxes nor military service - the duties of citizenship - they were not entitled to the privileges of citizenship, such as voting.216
Republicans even ruled out citizenship by naturalization on grounds that the naturalization law existed only for whites. Even after the Fourteenth Amendment had extended citizenship to native-born blacks, foreign-born blacks who had lived in the United States for years were still denied the opportunity to become citizens because of the "whites only" clause in the naturalization act.217 In 1870 Sumner re-introduced his proposal, first raised by him early in Reconstruction, to strike "white" from the naturalization law.218 Other critics claimed that naturalization applied only to aliens, thereby barring native-born Indians.219 That argument, however, conflicted with another reason for denying Indian voting rights - that Indians living in a tribal existence could not vote since they were members of foreign tribes, dealt with by treaties as foreign nations.220 Only Congress, through special legislation, could admit tribes to citizenship, as had been done for a small number of tribes.221 Those Indians who left the reservation and chose to live in "civilized" society, however, might be considered citizens.222 In fact, in the 1861 state election John R. Ridge, a Cherokee Indian, one-time Sacramento newspaper editor, and "confessedly one of the ablest and most brilliant members of his party," ran unsuccessfully for the office of state printer as a Douglas Democrat.223
When Congress was asked to examine how the Fifteenth Amendment would affect Indian voting rights, the Chronicle thought such a study pointless. "We think it would not have much effect," wrote editor De Young, resting his case on the fact that Indians were not citizens.224 Henry George presented the Democratic rebuttal. Lumping the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments together, George, who obviously opposed Indian balloting, argued that Sec. 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment - "all persons born... in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens..." - conferred citizenship upon Indians because of their birth and their subjection to the jurisdiction of both the state and national governments. Since the Fifteenth prohibited denial of suffrage on account of race or color, "Digger Indians of California are certainly as entitled to register to vote as negroes are."225
Other observers rejected the reasoning of both De Young and George. N. M. Orr, editor and publisher of the Republican Stockton Independent, found their conclusions strained. Neither amendment, "considered in the light of common sense and candor, rather than with a disposition to weave ingenious theories," affected the right of Indians to vote. Indians were denied voting rights by that provision in the original constitution regarding "Indians not taxed," a provision unaffected by either amendment. Ruled by kings, chiefs and other forms of monarchical government, tribal Indians lacked a republican form of government and were not subject to the jurisdiction of the states or the United States.227
If any Democratic editor truly believed in Indian suffrage it was B. F. Washington of the San Francisco Examiner. He presented the case for Indian suffrage as seen by an editor whose anti-black diatribes of earlier years had mellowed during Reconstruction.228 One of the first Democratic editors to acquiesce in acceptance of black suffrage under the Fifteenth Amendment, once ratified, Washington now argued for enfranchisement of the state's Indians inasmuch as the "red man" possessed equal rights. Made citizens by the Fourteenth Amendment and voters by the Fifteenth, Indians should be made aware of their privileges, including suffrage, and encouraged to take advantage of them. To that end he suggested undertaking a campaign to inform Indians of their rights. Since Radical Republicans justified the ballot for blacks on grounds that suffrage afforded them a means of protection, the wrongs perpetrated against Indians - destruction of their hunting grounds, loss of their game and the break up of their fisheries - entitled them to equal suffrage.229
In response, E. S. Lippitt dismissed the Democratic argument, with a mock concession that "the mongrel Congress has wrongfully admitted to the privilege of the franchise another low and degraded class of men, to the ruin of the country and the general destruction of the white man!" As several other Republicans had done, Lippitt relied on the "jurisdiction" clause of the Fourteenth to deny that Indians were entitled to suffrage as a result of the Fifteenth Amendment. Citing Creeks and Cherokees as examples, Lippitt noted that portions of those tribes became citizens years earlier by naturalization, thereby submitting to the jurisdiction of American law and taxation, thus gaining the right to vote.230
In an editorial entitled "Digger vs. Nigger," Robert Ferral, the unreconstructed states rights editor of the Sonoma Democrat, struck out at Lippitt:
Sacramento's James McClatchy cited history to show that only Democrats had wanted to grant citizenship to Indians, noting that before adoption of the state constitution a leading Democrat, whom McClatchy failed to name, sought to insert a clause making "Digger Indians" citizens.232 Now, McClatchy said, they still want citizenship and voting rights for Indians, but they want to achieve that by interpreting the Reconstruction Amendments so as to blame the Republicans for Indian suffrage. McClatchy claimed that the "Fifteenth Amendment does not give the right of suffrage to any class but citizens," and "does not assume to dictate who shall and who shall not be citizens." To McClatchy, Democrats supported Indian suffrage because they would vote Democratic while blacks and Chinese would not.
Henry George could not contain himself:
When the editor of the Sacramento Record apparently confused the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in an effort to refute George's argument that "Diggers" were now entitled to vote, George repeated his assertion that the Fourteenth made Indians citizens since they were born here and were "certainly subject to the jurisdiction of the United States," a claim that only Democrats seemed to accept. In an editorial entitled "Lo, as a Voter," George insisted that the Fifteenth gave Indians, as citizens, the right to vote at the next election "and they certainly will vote if the Fifteenth Amendment is enforced." He doubted that any Indians would join with blacks to vote Republican in light of that party's reluctance to welcome them, and attributed the Republican opposition to Indian suffrage to the fear that Indian votes would be Democratic.235
None of the state's newspapers reported any attempt by Indians to register or to vote in the local elections during the spring, 1870, following ratification. Instead, the Indian suffrage issue quietly disappeared from politics with the close of 1870. Democrats, having acquiesced in the registration of blacks as an irreversible reform, dropped references to the effect of the Fifteenth Amendment on Indian voting rights. Despite McClatchy's argument that Democrats sought Indian votes, and the Examiner's argument for enfranchising Indians, it is unlikely that any Democrat seriously supported Indian suffrage. Nor did Republicans have any interest in extending voting rights to Native Americans, but they had to answer what appeared to be legitimate Democratic arguments that the Reconstruction Amendments, taken collectively, granted such suffrage. However, the charge that the question of Indian suffrage arose as a red herring to embarrass Republicans is probably true.
In the end, an issue of greater concern regarding voting rights quickly overrode the question of ballots for Indians. Nearly all Chinese, unlike Indians, were foreign-born aliens. Consequently, the Democratic argument used to justify Indian balloting - that they were citizens by birth - did not apply to the Chinese. There was, however, the possibility of citizenship, and suffrage, through naturalization. Unlike Indians, whom Republicans said could not seek naturalization because they were native-born, the Chinese as foreign-born immigrants might someday be eligible for citizenship. This possibility of naturalization added another reason for the already emerging hostility toward Chinese, who alarmed the working class with their potential as competitors and frightened xenophobes because of cultural differences. The Fifteenth Amendment effectively negated the "whites only" clause in California's voting requirements, and once they became citizens the Chinese voting bloc would be substantial. But a "whites only" clause in the nation's naturalization law, unaffected by ratification of the amendment, prohibited Chinese suffrage as long as the ballot was reserved for citizens.236
California's 49,277 Chinese residents outnumbered the state's Indians by about 20,000 in 1870, and, unlike Indians, they competed in the labor market. Thus, workingmen and politicians, primarily Democrats, turned their attention increasingly to efforts to end Chinese immigration and contract labor and, if possible, to eject from the state those Chinese already here. As part of this campaign to rid California of Chinese, editors and legislators evoked the nightmare of tens of thousands of Chinese ballots cast to thwart the will of real Americans.237
The likelihood of Chinese suffrage, raised by the amendment's opponents as yet another evil effect of enfranchising blacks, gained added impetus when Sumner's measure to eliminate the word "white" from the naturalization law reached the Senate floor. Angered that the "whites only" provision dating back to the days of George Washington denied naturalization to blacks,238 Sumner moved to strike the color barrier.
Part of Sumner's proposed amendment to the naturalization law, which went far beyond merely opening citizenship to non-whites, read:
The anti-Chinese element welcomed his bill as a red flag, and his measure became, in the spring of 1870, the focal point of last ditch Democratic attacks on the Fifteenth Amendment. The growing hostility toward Chinese in California took place in the spring of 1870 amid a series of xenophobic speeches by a prominent Republican and former anti-slavery activist, Frank Pixley. Condemned by the mainstream Republican press but lauded by Democratic editors and some rural Republicans, Pixley was for a moment a major voice in the effort to rid the state of Chinese.240
Democrats argued that an amended naturalization law, coupled with the Fifteenth Amendment, opened the floodgates to Chinese suffrage. George, of the Sacramento Reporter, opposed both Chinese and Indian suffrage, but argued that both ethnic groups were already entitled to vote: the Fourteenth Amendment made every Chinese child born on American soil a citizen. The Fifteenth Amendment made every adult male citizen, regardless of race or color, a voter. Even if the naturalization law remained unchanged, some Chinese might vote at California's next election. While conceding that the number of Chinese who were American citizens by birth was small, twenty-one years had elapsed since the discovery of gold and the arrival of the first Chinese women. The oldest children born here would reach voting age by the next state election, and as citizens by birth would be eligible to vote.241
Those Chinese not born in America, editor George argued, "except possibly some few venerables," would take advantage of this opportunity to exercise the "inestimable privilege of the American freeman." The "door is wide open for the registration of every Chinaman who will swear that he was born in California, and who can get any other Chinaman to swear for him." George saw an oath as no barrier to the Chinese. "[W]hoever knows Chinese character... knows that it is easier to obtain Chinese oaths to any imaginable lie than to pick up pebbles on a gravelly beach." With the price of a vote at about two dollars, "there is hardly a Chinaman in the State who could not prove that he was born in California." Since, according to George, all Chinese look alike, a truism he seemed to think everyone accepted, it would be utterly impossible to prove that a particular one was not born here.242
George predicted a large Chinese vote under the Fifteenth at the next election, regardless of Sumner's efforts:
In a powerful statement against Sumner's amendment to the naturalization act, Sonoma Democrat editor Robert Ferral let it be known exactly where he stood on the race issue:
The Word White.
That little word has long been an eye-sore to the fanatics of the North. It is suggestive of Caucasian superiority, and was dearly prized by the Fathers of the Republic. This, of itself, inflamed the mad zealots of fanaticism, and made them hate the word. Anything that found favor in the eyes of Washington and Jefferson is sure to be obnoxious to Greeley and Sumner. Therefore the word white must be stricken out. So said the leaders years ago, and State after State has obeyed their fanatical behests, striking out the objectionable word from their Constitutions. Now another and greater blow must be struck. The naturalization laws must be changed. The fiat has gone forth. The mighty magnates of radicalism have spoken. Congress has taken up the cry. The word white must be struck out.
Open wide the doors of American citizenship. Invite all mankind to enter and exercise its highest prerogatives, regardless of race, color, character or qualifications. Cast the pearl of suffrage before the swine of Asia and Africa. Draw them into the fold--white and black, red and yellow--until the scum of the earth, the very dregs of humanity, comprise the majority of American citizens, and take into their keeping the honor and liberty of the American nation.
Strike out the word White! It speaks of the grand old past, when we had a country and a government that challenged the admiration of the world. It tells of the triumphs and glories of Caucasian manhood. It tells of a land where freedom was enshrined in the hearts of a happy people, whose greatness and prosperity proclaimed the true beneficence of a White Man's Government.
Strike out the word White! It is inimical to the doctrine of universal brotherhood. It is offensive to the Sumners and Greeleys of radical politics. It stands in the way of the negro and the China man, who are not "to the manor born." They are low, vicious, degraded, and ignorant as the beasts of the field. It would seem as if in the economy of nature, these caricatures of intelligent manhood had been created for radical voters. No better material could be found to do the dirty work of radicalism.
Strike out the word White! That little word is well nigh all that is left us now of the Government "as it was." It is still at its post, the last sentinel on the watch-tower of American freedom. 'Mid the darkness of the present hour, when the clouds of fanaticism enshroud our country, it shines like the beacon-light at sea, a signal of hope and warning. Of course it will be stricken out. The radical Congress is sound on that proposition, and thus another act of insane fanaticism will entail its curses upon a country already far along on the downward path of ruin.244
Even the Republican Call denounced the Sumner proposal for
George also found in the Enforcement Act, then moving through Congress, a clause that gave Chinese the same benefits as all other "citizens," and, George believed, implied that Chinese could become citizens. It prohibited discrimination by a state against immigrants from any foreign country, thus negating any attempt by California to restrict or discourage Chinese immigration and to prevent employment once they arrived. George, however, admitted that he based his judgment on an incomplete telegraphic dispatch and he awaited a written copy of the bill in the mail.246 In fact, the clause he referred to, Sec. 16 of the Enforcement Act of 1870, extended to all persons a variety of civil rights protections that Andrew Gyory has called the most far-reaching protection offered immigrants in the nineteenth century.247 When adopted, it struck down California's prohibition on Chinese testimony in court, which remained in effect after the 1863 repeal of restrictions on black testimony.248 In addition, Chinese miners in Siskiyou county refused to pay the foreign miners tax on grounds that it violated the Enforcement Act by imposing a tax on a particular class of persons. That deprived the county of approximately $500 per month.249
Republican editors took great pains to refute the Democratic claim that passage of Sumner's amendment to the naturalization law was imminent. The Yreka Journal's Robert Nixon claimed that "We have seen no Republican paper in the State, desirous of making citizens of the Chinese, nor do we think such a policy can be honestly endorsed in these United States, if the customs, manners and action of the Chinese are generally known, or at least that portion that come to this coast." McClatchy, of the Bee, opposed any change in the naturalization law to allow Chinese citizenship.250
Republicans responded by citing the lack of Democratic action on the Chinese question during the recent state legislative session. They charged that the Democrats, currently in power in California, failed to restrict the Chinese.251 Thomas Fitch, Republican congressman from Nevada, told his House colleagues that despite their dominance in California government, the Democrats in the recently adjourned legislature passed no measure to restrict Chinese suffrage, although they came to power on the Chinese issue. Nor had they done anything to restrict immigration. On the contrary, "So far from expressing their dislike of the Chinamen, they passed a law to encourage that people to remain here by levying a tax upon the exhumation and transportation of their dead bodies."252
Yreka's Nixon also charged that the Democratic legislature ignored the advice of the state attorney general when he advised that they adopt laws in regard to suffrage. Nixon evidently referred to Attorney General Hamilton's argument that the Fifteenth Amendment was not in effect until the legislature adopted "appropriate legislation." In fact, Nixon added, they made "no effort to guard against Chinese suffrage." He thought it might be related to the fact that southern Democrats encouraged importation of Chinese workers, and suggested that eastern Democrats wanted to get Chinese votes by granting them suffrage.253
While pursuing the argument that southern Democrats wanted to import coolies, Nixon displayed his own prejudice toward the Chinese, referring to them as "servile and unfit for a Republican form of government, as they come here either in pledge, body and soul, to the usurers of their own race, or the slaves of companies who ship them to this country as negroes were formerly shipped from Africa." Despite this, Nixon favorably reported participation by a Chinese band in the July 4 parade.254
Again, in July, Nixon editorialized that Congressional Democrats might support importation of Chinese labor because their southern colleagues needed that labor in lieu of slave labor.255 To support his argument that Democrats were reluctant to harm economic interests by restricting Chinese labor, he added that the Democratic-dominated state legislature voted down a bill to require railroad companies to employ none but white labor.256
Nixon also argued that most Congressional Republicans supported restricting Chinese immigration by stopping the importation of coolie labor.257 While that may be true, Republicans dominated the national legislature as strongly as the Democrats controlled the state legislative branch, yet Congress refused to act on any measure limiting contract labor.258 Republicans made a great distinction between an outright ban on Chinese immigration, which they opposed, and a restriction on contract labor, which many Republicans sought but on which they failed to act at that time.
Nixon claimed that Republican congressmen were opposed to granting citizenship to Chinese, noting as proof that Republicans had altered the original version of the Fifteenth Amendment. An early draft contained the words "nativity or religious belief" in addition to race, color or previous condition of servitude as unacceptable grounds for denying citizens the vote.259 Nativity and religious belief had been stricken at least in part because Congress understood that the Pacific states would not ratify an amendment that allowed the Chinese to vote.260
Nixon garbled the meaning of that action, however, when he claimed that it left to states the right to deny Chinese citizenship even if the word white was stricken from the naturalization law. What he no doubt meant was that by eliminating "nativity' as a condition for which suffrage could not be denied, states were allowed to ban the right to vote on grounds of place of birth regardless of citizenship. Versions of the Fifteenth Amendment that would have prohibited states from restricting the right to vote on account of nativity, creed, and lack of education (among other categories) were voted down in the House-Senate conference committee that developed the final wording of the amendment.261
In contrast to Nixon's depiction of Democrats as ambivalent on the Chinese restriction issue, Rep. Samuel Axtell, a California Democratic member of the House, spoke for many Californians of both parties when he urged fellow Congressmen to table the naturalization bill with its clause striking "white" from the act:
Our forefathers wisely inserted "white" in the naturalization laws. I am unwilling to see it struck out unless the word "European" be substituted in its place. Chinese suffrage would depopulate the Pacific States.... I do not believe one intelligent man can be found on the Pacific coast who favors Chinese Suffrage.... For my own part,... I would prefer to relinquish my right as an elector and submit to a military government rather than share it with the Chinese.262
Ultimately, the Senate defeated Sumner's proposal and another one specifically designed to allow Chinese naturalization, and refused to remove the word white from the naturalization law. However, the Naturalization Act of 1870 allowed persons born in Africa and persons of African descent to become citizens.263