Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/247

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OUR MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE LAWS.

Southern—such a marriage is declared absolutely void, and the parties living together under it are punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary for "lascivious cohabitation." In these States the international and interstate rule, that a marriage legally contracted in one State is valid in every other State, is outraged and defied; and parties lawfully married in a State which does not prohibit the intermarriage of white and colored persons removing into these States are not recognized as husband and wife, but are made subjects of a law punishing fornication and adultery.

Before emancipation there was no legal marriage between slaves—a slave not being competent to enter into a contract—so that the relation of husband and wife depended wholly upon the will and caprice of the master. And the children of such marriages were neither legitimate nor illegitimate, coming into the world independent of all marriage laws. For this reason it would have been illogical in those States to have made it a penal offense for a white man and a slave woman, either through love, lustful passion, or desire of increase of property, to beget children of mixed white and colored blood, though the large numbers of persons of mixed color in the Southern States show that it was practiced to a profitable degree. But since the conditions of slavery have ceased to exist, and the freedmen have become citizens of the United States, endowed by the Constitution with all the political and civil rights enjoyed by their former masters, including the natural right of marriage, the reasons upon which the former black laws were based can have no application to the present social rights of these people. Still, the prejudice, deeply rooted in the interest of slavery, exists; and the cases recently before the Supreme Court under the civil-rights law, to test the constitutionality of the State laws punishing marriage between white and colored persons, have been decided on collateral issues in favor of that prejudice. Thus the laws of several States and the ruling of the highest tribunal in the land interrupt the natural law of selection and development. But the question is not at rest; it must be met—met as it now is, and as it will appear in the future. And if those States and the courts will not respond to the demands of the higher civilization of the age which recognizes this fundamental social law, Congress should clearly recognize and define the equal married rights of the citizens of the United States in the District of Columbia and the Territories, without regard to "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

According to the last census, the population of the United States is reported at fifty millions, in round numbers. The report is very exact in giving the age, sex, and place of birth of each individual, native and foreign, and much other information valuable to the student of ethnology and the migration of peoples. But it is neglectful of one of the most important questions of races. It divides the population into two races, "white" and "colored," giving the number of the former