Black Citizenship: Frederick Douglass & an immigrant professor confront President Johnson

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The Union Army that triumphed in 1865 reunited the United States by military force. The composition of that army also served notice that old ideas about who was and who was not an American were collapsing. More than one-third of all Union soldiers were black or foreign-born. Six out of ten men in the Union navy came from those two groups. Conversely, nearly all of the defeated Confederates, viewed as traitors by many Northerners, were native-born whites. 1

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Even after 180,000 African Americans served their country in the Union army, President Andrew Johnson refused to recognize that they were citizens of the United States.

The 14th Amendment that emerged from the Civil War struggle would codify revolutionary changes in citizenship for African Americans and immigrants alike.2

Less than a decade earlier, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court wrote in the Dred Scott decision that blacks were not citizens and that blacks “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…” In the same years, the Know Nothing movement was campaigning to deny citizenship rights to immigrants and Catholics.3

The formation of Irish regiments in the Union army, complete with Irish flags and folkways, did not just provide the comforts of ethnic solidarity to immigrant soldiers. The regiments also served as a challenge. In the 1850s, these very symbols of foreignness had been stripped by Know Nothing governors from Irish militia companies. During the Civil War the once despised flags had been advanced in battle at great sacrifice to the immigrant men who bore them and to the cheers of native-born soldiers who shared the same fields of death. 4

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Green flags carried by Irish immigrant soldiers became commonplace on many Civil War battlefields.

Union soldiers campaigning in the South often found that the only Southerners who were loyal to the Union were the blacks they encountered as slaves on plantations. The enslaved African Americans offered encouragement, passed on intelligence about the location of Confederate units, and helped Union soldiers who had been taken prisoner escape to the North. When blacks were finally allowed to enlist in the army, they joined by the tens of thousands. 5

And yet, at the end of the war, African Americans who had supported the United States government were still not considered citizens in many states while white men who had taken up arms against the United States were not only citizens, but voters.6

While some in President Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party argued that blacks and immigrants had equal rights with native-born whites, the president’s Attorney General Edward Bates concluded after much research that the Constitution was ambiguous on most questions concerning citizenship. Neither blacks nor immigrants could feel secure in their citizenship and neither could their children.7

Francis Lieber, a German immigrant and one of the foremost legal scholars in America, argued that new amendments needed to be added to the Constitution to protect the rights of newly freed slaves. He understood that this approach would be difficult because many native-born Americans seemed to view the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as almost divinely inspired and not subject to change. Lieber saw this notion of Constitutional inerrancy as directly opposed to the view of the Founding Fathers themselves. As great as the Founders may have been, he argued in a widely distributed essay, they understood the “probability of necessary amendments.” Their genius was in understanding that their great work might need modification over time for the country they founded to endure.8

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In the mid-19th Century Columbia University was located on 49th St.

In the last months of the Civil War, Lieber wrote that the United States was in “a time of necessary and searching reform.” The law had to recognize that the facts on the ground had been changed by the war and the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. “Things have already changed,” he wrote, and “we cannot avoid its duty.”9

As an immigrant, Lieber was less susceptible than the native-born to the civic religion a time when many whites believed, as he wrote, the “unhistorical fact that the Government of the United States was established by the white people alone” and had then reached the “illogical conclusion [that the government] is for the white people alone.” This convenient illusion allowed whites to govern blacks as an inferior race. Lieber, who had years earlier owned slaves himself, declared that “it is impious to withhold from a race the common benefits for which governments are established.” He wrote that blacks were entitled to “justice and protection” from the government on a basis equal to whites.10

To correct this imbalance, Lieber proposed a constitutional amendment granting citizenship to everyone born in the U.S. or naturalized “without any exception of color, race, or origin…”11

Lieber and others also understood that a major flaw in the Constitution was that it did not explicitly extend to the protections of the Bill of Rights to protect citizens against abusive actions by the state governments. This may seem almost impossible to believe today, when state and local governments are often called to account for violating people’s Constitutional rights. However, if we look at the language of the First Amendment, for example, we see that it says that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” It does not say that the State of South Carolina shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.12

During the decades before the Civil War, many Southern states adopted laws restricting freedom of speech when the subject was slavery. John Bingham, who was to be one of the principal authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, pointed out before the war that in areas where slavery was legal, it was often illegal to speak out against slavery. Severe punishment was meted out particularly to anyone who criticized slavery to enslaved blacks or encouraged them to resist their enslavement.13

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Frederick Douglass at the time of the Civil War.

On February 7, 1866 Frederick Douglass led a delegation of 13 representatives of the National Convention of Colored Men to the White House to meet with President Andrew Johnson, to discuss the necessity for blacks to be recognized as American citizens. Douglass told Johnson that Lincoln had placed the sword in the hand of the black man to “assist in saving the nation” when he recruited the 180,000 blacks in the United States Colored Troops. Now, Douglass said, blacks asked that Johnson “place in our hands the ballot with which to save ourselves.”14
Johnson’s response must have shocked his listeners. He told them “I do not want to adopt a policy that I believe will end in a contest between the races, which if persisted in will result in the extermination of one…” In other words, he was predicting a race war if blacks were made citizens. Johnson said that blacks had gained much by being freed from slavery, and whites had lost much by being deprived of their slaves. He argued that it would be unfair to whites, who had lost so much already, to also lose the power to be the sole governing race in the United States. 15

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Among the most violently contested issues after the Civil War was the right of African American men to vote.

Since a majority of white Southerners opposed giving blacks the vote, President Johnson said:

“I should consider it would be tyrannical in me to attempt to force such upon them without their will. It is a fundamental tenet in my creed that the will of the people must be obeyed. Is there anything wrong or unfair in that?”

“A great deal that is wrong, Mr. President, with all respect,” responded Douglass.16

Immigrants from Union general Carl Schurz to former-Congressman Robert Dale Owen would conclude with Frederick Douglass that the only way to establish citizenship rights for freed slaves was through the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. 17

Video: Historian Eric Foner Discusses the Origins of the 14th Amendment

Resources:

Francis Lieber’s essay on Constitutional Amendments is available online.

The Transcript of the meeting between Frederick Douglass and Pres. Andrew Johnson is available here.

Sources:

1. DRED SCOTT v. SANDFORD, 60 U.S. 393, 396 (1856);  American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment by Gerard N. Magliocca published by NYU Press. (2013) Kindle Edition;  Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America Garrett Epps published by Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition; A Letter to Senator E.D. Morgan on the Amendment of the Constitution Extinguishing Slavery by Francis Lieber published by Loyal Publication Society (1865); Amendments of the Constitution Submitted to the Consideration of the American People by Francis Lieber published by The Loyal Publication Society (1865); Transcript, Meeting between President Andrew Johnson and a Delegation of African-Americans, White House, February 7, 1866; Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship During the Civil War by Christian G. Samito published by Harvard University Press (2009); The Fourteenth Amendment and the Priviledges and Immunities of American Citizenship by Kurt Lash published by Cambridge University Press (2014); No State Shall Abridge: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights by Michael Kent Curtis published by Duke University Press (1990).
2. Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America Garrett Epps published by Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition
3. DRED SCOTT v. SANDFORD, 60 U.S. 393, 396 (1856)
4. Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship During the Civil War by Christian G. Samito published by Harvard University Press (2009).
5. Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship During the Civil War by Christian G. Samito published by Harvard University Press (2009).
6. Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship During the Civil War by Christian G. Samito published by Harvard University Press (2009).
7. Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship During the Civil War by Christian G. Samito published by Harvard University Press (2009).
8. Amendments of the Constitution Submitted to the Consideration of the American People by Francis Lieber published by The Loyal Publication Society (1865) pp. 3-6.
9. Amendments of the Constitution Submitted to the Consideration of the American People by Francis Lieber published by The Loyal Publication Society (1865) pp. 3-6.
10. Amendments of the Constitution Submitted to the Consideration of the American People by Francis Lieber published by The Loyal Publication Society (1865) pp. 10-16.
11. Amendments of the Constitution Submitted to the Consideration of the American People by Francis Lieber published by The Loyal Publication Society (1865) p. 89.
12. American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment by Gerard N. Magliocca published by NYU Press. (2013) Kindle Edition
13. American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment by Gerard N. Magliocca published by NYU Press. (2013) Kindle Edition pp. 44-46.
14. Transcript, Meeting between President Andrew Johnson and a Delegation of African-Americans, White House, February 7, 1866
15. Transcript, Meeting between President Andrew Johnson and a Delegation of African-Americans, White House, February 7, 1866
16. Transcript, Meeting between President Andrew Johnson and a Delegation of African-Americans, White House, February 7, 1866
17. Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America Garrett Epps published by Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

107. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate and the Know Nothings

108. Killing Pat Cleburne: Know Nothing Violence

109. Pat Cleburne: Arresting a General, Becoming a General

110. The Immigrant Story Behind “Twelve Years a Slave”

111. A German Immigrant Woman’s Gettysburg Address

112. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate’s Emancipation Proclamation

113. Pat Cleburne: The South Can’t Use Black Soldiers Without Ending Slavery

114. The Suppression of Pat Cleburne’s Emancipation Proposal

115. An Irish Immigrant Colonel’s Warnings Ignored at Chickamauga

116. An Immigrant Colonel’s Fighting Retreat at Chickamauga

117. August Willich: German Socialist at Chickamauga

118. Hans Heg:at Chickamauga: Norwegian Commander on the Eve of Battle

119. Ivan and Nadine Turchin: Russian Revolutionary Aristocrats at Chickamauga

120. German Immigrants Pinned Down at Chickamauga

121. Hans Heg: To Die for His Adopted Country at Chickamauga

122. Patrick Guiney: An Irish Colonel on the Edge of the Wilderness

123. Immigrants March Out of The Wilderness and Into a Wicked Hail of Gunfire

124. Peter Welsh in the Irish Brigade’s Purgatory at Spotsylvania

125. Peter Welsh: What Sacrifice Must the Immigrant Make for His Adopted Land?

126. A Second Irish Brigade’s Catastrophe at a Forgotten Fight Near Fredericksburg

127. An Irish Man and a French Woman Between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor

128. Two Irish Brigades Swept Away by a Hurricane from Hell at Cold Harbor

129. Petersburg: The Start of a Ten Month Siege that Devoured Men and Disabled the Irish Brigade

130. A Volcano in Virginia: The Battle of the Crater

131. 1864 Election: The Immigrant Voter & Abraham Lincoln

132. August Belmont: The German Jewish Immigrant Who Led the Opposition to Lincoln’s 1864 Reelection

133. Lincoln and the Superiority of the “Negro” over the Irish

134. Lincoln’s Germans and the Election of 1864

135. Lincoln’s German Lawyer Comes Out Swinging in the Election of 1864

136. Lincoln Wins the Election of 1864 With Immigrant Votes

137. American Refugee Camp in Civil War Kentucky Destroyed by Union Soldiers

138. Kentucky Civil War Refugee Camp Reborn and Reconstructed After Expulsions

139. Immigrant German “Hamburgers” Tormented and Captured at Petersburg

140. German General Weitzel and His African Canadians at Petersburg

141. Irish Regiment at the Beginning of the End of the Confederacy at Five Forks

142. Richmond Burning: The German Immigrant and Black Troops Who Saved the City

143. Appomattox: The Capture of a Confederate Army & the Fall from Grace of an Immigrant General

144. Lincoln Assassinated: John Wilkes Booth’s Immigrant Conspirators

145. Immigrants Hunt Lincoln’s Killers and Help Capture the Confederate President

146. Lincoln’s Murder and the New York Irish American

147. Lincoln’s Funeral in Immigrant New York

148. German General Carl Schurz Begins His Investigation of the Post-War South

149. Carl Schurz Warned That a “System of Terrorism” Was Taking Hold in the Post-War South in 1865

150. Immigrants in the Union Navy: Minorities in the Majority

151. How Immigrants Were Recruited into the United States Navy

152. African Canadian Sailors in the Union Navy

153. High School Student Proves Professor Wrong When He Denied “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Existed

154. The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

155. No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

156. Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

157.  A Scottish Socialist and a German General Work to Help Slaves Become Freedpeople-Robert Dale Owen, Carl Schurz and the founding of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

158. Our Man in Sweden: Recruiting Immigrants to Strengthen the Union War Effort

159. German Immigrants and the End of Slavery in Missouri

160. 13th Amendment: Immigrants and the end of slavery in America

161. Finding Civil Immigrants Where You Wouldn’t Expect Them: The Irish and German Harvard Men

162. Recovering the memories of Jewish Civil War soldiers

163. Kate Cumming Confederate Immigrant Nurse and the Shiloh Disaster

164. Immigrant nurse reports on Civil War hospital organized by Nursing Nuns after Shiloh battle

165. Sarah Emma Edmonds: The Immigrant Woman As “Male Nurse”

166. Immigrant Women Struggled to be Recognized as Nurses After the Civil War

167. Prelude to a Reconstruction Riot: Irish and Blacks in Memphis 1866

168. The Memphis Massacre of 1866: A Race Riot Pits Irish Immigrants Against Newly Freed Slaves

169. The 14th Amendment, the German Immigrant Carl Schurz, and the Assault on White Superiority Part of The Coming of the 14th Amendment

170. Black Citizenship, Frederick Douglass and German Immigrant Professor Francis Lieber Confront President Andrew Johnson Part of The Coming of the 14th Amendment

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