The Negro Problem (Bruce)

For works with similar titles, see The Negro Problem.
The Negro Problem  (1891) 
by William Cabell Bruce

Printed in 1891 by John Murphy & Co.


From first to last it should be borne in mind that the Negro Problem is a race problem.
It is true that the great mass of the Southern negroes vote republican ballots. This, however,
is not because they have any definite convictions upon questions of public policy, nor yet,
except to a limited extent, because it was the Republican party that conferred upon them
freedom and the franchise, and that to-day affects to be their one champion and guardian.
Their intellectual condition renders the first idea ludicrous. The second is largely shorn of its
claims to consideration by the fact that enough negroes have resided at the North to fully
enlighten their race at the South as to how far white Republicans in the former section are
disposed to fraternize with the African in all the personal and business relations of life. When
to correct information in this respect is added the begrudging spirit in which a few petty
offices are awarded to the Southern negro as his part of the spoil of a presidential election,
it is hard to see how the emotions excited in him by the Emancipation Proclamation, the
post-bellum Amendments to the Federal Constitution and the present professions of the
Republican party could be otherwise than considerably cooled.
The Southern negro votes a republican ballot because it is the race prejudices of the
Southern whites, which he heartily reciprocates, and not the race prejudices of the Northern
whites, that bear directly upon his daily life, and because he knows that the Republican party
is still numerously composed of partisans whose feelings towards the Southern whites are such
that they would not hesitate to use even him as an agency for their degradation. If by some
process of transposition all the Southern whites could be removed to the North, and all the
Northern whites to the South, only a few years of race friction would suffice to foster a
political antagonism between the latter and the negro, as marked as that which now exists
between the former and him.
The problem then is a race problem. Whatever gratitude the negro might feel for the
political privileges, conferred upon him by the Republican party, he would be an even more
highly organized individual than the white man, if he were capable of soothing the smart of
the social and political proscription at the North, which excludes him from schools, hotels,
places of amusement, positions of public trust and private employments other than menial,
with memories of historical favors, of which he is as a rule so ignorant that, when the test was
made at a recent banquet in a Northern city, it is said that not one of the negro waiters
present was found to know who William Lloyd Garrison was.
Side by side, or rather face to face at the South, there are two races, of all the members
of the human family the most widely separated by salient and ineffaceable physical
distinctions, and to all appearances by moral and intellectual distinctions equally as salient
and ineffaceable.
Let us contrast these races.
And first as to the physical distinctions between them. Surely, never were such
distinctions more acutely accentuated. It is hard to see how a person can remember the

inveterate aversion, which has sprung from race peculiarities not so pronounced, such for
instance as those that keep the Englishman and the East Indian or the American and the
Mongolian sullenly apart, even when brought into the closest contiguity in point of space,
and yet fail to recognize in the wooly hair, the receding forehead, the flat nose, the thick lips
and the protruding jaw of the negro, not to speak of the paramount incompatibility of color,
personal attributes exquisitely calculated to disgust prepossessions based upon their exact
To this statement it will, of course, be replied that, if the only lines of separation between
the negro and the white man are physical, such prepossessions are capricious merely and
should not be countenanced by the enlightened spirit of to-day. And ten to one the reply will
emanate from some Republican editor or politician who would have heaped the bitterest
reproaches upon the South, if her representatives had not helped to arrest the tide of
Mongolian emigration, that was creeping over the face of the Pacific coast, and was stayed
only when the stern common sense of self preservation indignantly trampled under foot every
appeal of false sentiment and false philosophy. But the argument begs the question. Man is
a creature of prejudice as well as of reason, and no government is conducted in the spirit of
true statesmanship that does not take deeply ingrained prejudice into account. Omission in
this regard is chargeable with one half of the irritation that always follows when one
community undertakes to do the thinking or the want of thinking of another. More and more
the tendency in modern times, especially since the reign of the abstractions, that conspire to
swell the warnings of the French Revolution, has been to regard Government as a practical
science that should seek to accommodate itself not only to the virtues but the weaknesses of
the human beings upon which it operates. As well might a tailor attempt to frame a coat
without reference to the defects of the structure, for which it is intended, as a Legislature to
frame laws without reference to the social predilections and antipathies of its constituents,
however unjust or even whimsical some of these predilections or antipathies might appear to
an outsider to be.
But the lines of separation between the negro and the white man are far from being
purely physical. Even if the personal characteristics, to which we have alluded, were wanting,
his origin, his history, his present condition and moral and intellectual idiosyncrasies of his
would still impart to his individuality an invidious relief.
From the dawn of recorded time, from the period, when his captive form was delineated
upon the commemorative walls of ancient Egypt, until the present day, he has been the slave
of a will other than his own, or, when not the slave of a will other than his own, the slave of
what is even worse—of his own unillumined and misguided will. Of all the teeming millions,
that people the Dark Continent, not one of its innumerable tribes has ever succeeded in
elevating itself to a level that even the more advanced of the Asiatic nations would call
civilization. Indeed, so sunk in savagery and superstition is this vast continent that, without
a perceptible shock to the conscience of the world, six or seven of the Great Powers of Europe
have partitioned its entire surface between them with as little regard to the inclinations of
the natives themselves as if the latter were so many rabbits in a warren. So too, when any

portion of the African race has been enslaved by the Caucasian, and, through the harsh
discipline of slavery, has been lifted to a higher than its aboriginal estate, it has never been
endowed with self-control except to its discredit. These are hard words. They are written
entirely without an intention to claim that the conclusions of the future can always be safely
deduced from the premises of the past. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that they are
justified by the facts and should therefore be allowed their full force in shaping the spirit, in
which the Negro Problem should be approached. Froude, certainly an intelligent observer,
has just warned Great Britain, after a tour of her possessions in the West Indies, that a more
liberal extension of political power to the blacks in those islands would probably terminate
in as many fac-similes of Hayti. What this means we are at no loss to determine. Another
highly intelligent Englishman, Sir Spenser St. John, who resided for years as British Minister
at Port-au-Prince, had, a short while before, expressed in a singularly interesting book, Hayti,
or the Black Republic, which should be in the hands of every public man in the United States,
his conviction that, in spite of her unsurpassed natural resources, in spite of the ready-made
industrial, political and ecclesiastical organizations, to which she fell heir, when the French
were expelled from the island, in spite of her long term of self-rule, Hayti, already the seat of
chronic peculation and carnage, was steadily returning to serpent worship and cannibalism.
The same view of Hayti was presented by the various correspondents of our great American
dailies,1 who wrote from the island during the periodic revolution of last year. It is also
sustained by the testimony of an official successor of Sir Spenser St. John.2
Other examples can be readily adduced. A negro, Charles H. I. Taylor, appointed
Minister to Liberia by President Cleveland, threw up his mission in disgust, and came home
to declare in a paper, which appeared in the Kansas City Times on April 22, 1888, that the
Republic, founded and upheld by the generous patronage of our country, had arrived at the
lowest point of disorganization and decay. It is well known that Congress was compelled to
withdraw the privilege of self-government from the District of Columbia, as England had been
compelled to withdraw it from Jamaica, because of the degree to which its value was impaired
by the associated evils of negro suffrage. Contrasted, however, with the fate, that befell the
Southern States, after the close of the Civil War, these illustrations assume but a secondary
significance. As long as they retain the recollection of anything, the people of those States
will not forget the odious and maddening crisis in their affairs when the liberated slave, the
scalawag and the cast-off vagabond of other communities joined hands for the purpose of
insulting and despoiling them, and their offices became instruments of plunder far more
efficacious than the sword itself had been, and unblushing knavery and corruption
culminated in tax rates high enough to be little less than the equivalents of confiscation and
yet not high enough to save the public credit from utter shame, and the high places of justice
were befouled, and parliaments, once the seats of eloquence and deliberative wisdom,
resounded with the rude gibberish of a council fire in the bush, and ancient and illustrious
commonwealths trod the lowest abysses of humiliation and disgrace.
1 See for instance the Baltimore Sun, January 8, 1889 and April 5, 1890.
2 Richmond Times, March 13, 1890.

With the exception of the negro, all the elements that enter into the population of the
United States came here. The negro was brought here. Captured by his own kith and kin in
Africa, sold by his captors to the slave dealers, sold by the slave dealers to the slaveship,
transported by the slaveship to our shores, he was, from the colonial period until the
momentous day, that struck off his fetters, as much a chattel as the plough or the hoe that
he handled. Never did any race in the annals of human existence bow its neck so tamely to
the yoke or show such little tenacity of fibre in resisting the influences of new surroundings.
He not only learnt to wear his chains with docility but with light-hearted carelessness. He not
only ceased to cherish every usage and institution of his mother country, but surpassed all
other races, of which there is any record, in the ready imitativeness with which he adopted
the usages and institutions of his masters. More than a century passed away, and yet scarcely
in a solitary instance did the noble instinct of self-assertion, that has at times spurred the
heart of every other slave into desperation, move his. A direful war supervened between his
owners and their foes, of which he himself was at least indirectly the occasion, and yet,
though it afforded him every opportunity to strike a successful blow for his liberty, he, as a
general thing, pursued the ordinary routine of his servile tasks as if he had no stake in the
contest. Many and most touching proofs of fidelity and devotion to master and family did he
exhibit during this time, as has again and again been gratefully acknowledged in word and
deed by those who received them, but these credits belong to his account as a bondsman and
not as a citizen.
Such a slave as this was doubly a slave. Hurried from chattelism into citizenship, utterly
without any sort of probationary training for its duties, he, of course, still bore in the latter
state all the badges of the moral and intellectual debasement that had characterized him in
the former. Here and there in the larger cities of the country, where he is brought into
immediate contact with the civilization of the white race, he has made some advance towards
the acquisition of education and property, but in the rural communities at the South, through
which the great mass of his race is diffused, he is, in point of moral and mental enlightenment,
substantially what he was before emancipation. A widespread belief in conjury,
common even to domestic servants, who have spent the greater part of their lives under the
roofs of white persons, morbid superstitions fermenting beneath a thin film of religious forms,
an almost unbridled licentiousness in the intercourse of the sexes, a venality at the polls
absolutely unqualified by any principle short of hostility to the whites, an improvidence that
wastes in a day on luxuries the earnings of a week or a month, a childish elevation of spirits
that assumes a more sober cast only when some chord of sensual desire, or furtive hatred or
indefinable fear is touched; all testify to an observer in the heart of a country neighborhood
in the Southern States how slightly in every fundamental respect the nature of the negro has
been altered since he went to bed a slave and awoke with a ballot in his hand.
Persistently it is always assumed by honest and dishonest partisans at the North that the
negro is simply a white man with a black skin. The assumption is in no instance founded
upon anything better than a total want of practical familiarity with his temperament and
character. It is impossible to say in what ratio his present deficiencies are to be apportioned

between the circumstances of his past and innate shortcomings. But this we can say. Though
he has now been a freeman for a quarter of a century, though the South in that time has
applied a most generous share of her state revenues towards his education, and Northern
philanthropy has accepted him as a standing charge upon its liberality, his position in the
scale of human progress has not materially changed. His faculties betray the same immaturity
and incapacity to anticipate the future. His moral and religious perceptions still grope in the
twilight. Brought from sunrise to sunset into companionship with the sublime phenomena of
nature, where, in his case, are to be found the rude but stirring strains of poetry and
eloquence that this companionship has evoked from every gifted race in its infancy. Vested
with citizenship, stamped with indelible tokens as a distinct individual, who should be
impelled by the strongest motives of self-interest and race emulation to improve the condition
of his people, when has he ever evinced an aptitude for public affairs? Living in vicinities,
where land can be purchased for a few dollars an acre, what proportion of the Southern soil
has he acquired? Laboring as a farm hand in thousands of open fields and as an operative in
hundreds of tobacco and cotton factories, how many patents for improvements in agricultural
or manufacturing machinery has his inventive genius ever secured? It is in no intemperate
spirit that these questions are asked. A more distasteful duty cannot be devolved upon a man
and a gentleman than that of laying bare the infirmities of a race, which was not brought into
contact with him of its own free will, and that, whatever may be its inherent imperfections,
has never enjoyed, and, in association with the white race, will never enjoy, that full equality
of opportunity which is granted to every white man. Indeed, if the entente cordiale between
the Southern whites and the Southern blacks, that is absolutely necessary to the progress of
the latter, has been rendered impossible, the blame must largely rest upon the selfish third
parties to the relation, who are tireless in condemning foreign intrusion into the domestic
affairs of the Irish, but are equally tireless in their insidious efforts to adjust the domestic
affairs of the South without reference to the views of the dominant race there, as to the
appalling issues that turn upon the manner in which the adjustment is effected. Towards the
negro, individually, the Southern whites often entertain the kindest feelings. He has his good
qualities. Under the oversight of the people, who know all the limitations on his character,
he is in many respects a highly efficient laborer, and personally he is far from being destitute
of amiable characteristics. That the Southern whites are not wholly lacking in the disposition
to pave his path to a higher position than he now occupies, when he is fitted for it, is
demonstrated in the enormous sacrifices in the way of taxation for educational purposes that
they have made and are still making to fit him for it. But towards the negro, collectively, their
attitude under existing conditions could not fail to be indicative of the profoundest
apprehension. No matter what the negro is capable of becoming, or may become, not wilder
or guiltier was the phantasy that man can hold property in man than the phantasy that the
negro, as he is to-day, is the equal of the white man and has as much right to political
supremacy as he. A Northern emigrant never comes South, and buys a plantation, and acts
upon that idea that he does not introduce hopeless demoralization into his operations. The
long experience, which is the parent of all wise conduct, has taught the Southern whites

better. Not only does their superior knowledge of negro nature lead them in some of their
relations with him to tighten their grasp, but in as many more to relax it. They know that a
negro man may not hesitate to rob a cornhouse or a smokehouse and yet be a diligent and,
in other respects, a faithful hand. They know that a negro woman may be devoid of the
rudimentary instincts of chastity and yet be a valuable domestic. The consequence is that
there never was a more unjust charge than the one, so confidently pressed by writers like
Cable, that the penalties of the criminal law are inflicted by them in a harsher spirit upon the
negro than upon themselves. The very reverse is true. Except in the case of one heinous
offence, in its administration, they make the most indulgent allowances for the weaknesses
of the negro, and too often decline to put it into motion at all in cases in which it would be
sternly applied to a white criminal, and this upon the tacitly conceded ground that the negro,
like the Utopia of Cuckoldom, of which Charles Lamb speaks in his comments upon the
comic dramatists of the Restoration, is not justly amenable to ordinary moral laws. Only a
short time since, a negro in Virginia, known to the writer, was detected in the theft of several
hogs. The next day, after a reprimand, he was at work as usual in the enclosure about the
house of his employer. Many other instances of the same sort might readily be cited from the
personal observation of the writer alone.
In bringing our remarks in this connection to a close, it may be added that not only have
the great majority of the Southern negroes failed to make any notable headway since the
Civil War, but in some important particulars have distinctly retrograded. This much at least
may be said for slavery. By subjecting the will of the negro to the will of a master, who was
constrained by a sense of pecuniary interest and, on the whole, by a sense of moral
accountability too, to consult the best welfare of his slave, it disciplined him into habits of
moderation and self-restraint. The salutary effects of this discipline are apparent in the fact
that such property, as has been acquired by the negro in recent years, has been acquired
almost exclusively by former slaves. When slavery ceased, it ceased and nothing so far has
arisen to take its place. It is the “new issue,” that has never known its influence, which is
recognized by the older generation of negroes themselves as most notoriously wanting in all
the characteristics that constitute thrifty or useful citizens. Unaccustomed to personal
responsibility for a violation of duty, and too benighted to grasp such a refinement as the
moral obligation of a contract, they are faithless in their engagements to a degree that often
seriously embarrasses their employers. Not being obliged as their fathers were to surround
cohabitation with the sanctions of marriage, they are progressively dispensing with the latter
and finding an outlet for their sensual impulses in casual libertinism, or at best in temporary
arrangements that rarely survive the first strong temptation to escape from their trammels.
Saucy, vagrant, improvident, without self-restraint, and subject to no external discipline, that
could supply its place, if they were the only types of their race, it would have been difficult
indeed for the genius of Thomas Nelson Page or Irwin Russell to have discovered a single tint
of romance in the composition of the negro.
And how could it be otherwise? So long as slavery lasted, the master was free to tolerate
a considerable latitude of personal intercourse between himself and his slaves; for no

individual familiarity or indulgence could possibly efface the line of deep demarcation that
the law had prescribed. With the termination of slavery, however, and the mad legislative
attempt to shuffle up the blacks and the whites together, it became impossible for the whites
to allow themselves the same liberty without running the risk of having their race
susceptibilities irritated in many different modes. On the other hand, the blacks, endowed
with full political equality, have naturally become less and less disposed to accept personal
intercourse with the whites on any terms that do not recognize their full social equality also.
The first result is that the two races have steadily drifted further and further from each other,
and the second that the one, already lamentably ill supplied with capacity for selfimprovement,
has been left more unreservedly than ever to the free play of its own untutored
and degrading tendencies.
This growing separation is manifesting itself in the very physical aspect of the negro. It
is impossible to defend the illicit commerce between white men and negro women, that has
so palpably qualified the strict African type, but it is undeniable that one of the effects of this
commerce was to enhance the intellectual capabilities of the lower race by producing cross
products superior to the unqualified African. However delusive race theories may be, it is
certainly a most suggestive fact that the majority of the few negroes, who have attained
prominence, have belonged to the shades intermediate between the white race and the pure
blooded black. Every remove from the latter involves a distinct gain in intelligence and
vivacity. One of the most cogent causes of the rapid pace, at which Hayti is reverting to
barbarism, is the jealousy with which the lighter section of its population is regarded by the
darker. The negro leaders of the Reconstruction Period were principally men of color. It is
a matter of every day occurrence that, in all the employments, open to the negro, that call
for the exercise of something more than mere muscular vigor, the preference is given to the
mulatto. Indeed, the negro himself recognizes that the various gradations of his color carry
along with them corresponding gradations of intellect. Put, says a curious saying of the
Haytians, a white man, a mulatto and a black man in prison, and the first demands paper and
ink to draw up a protest, the second casts about for means to escape, and the third falls
asleep, and, after sleeping twenty-four hours, awakes, grumbles a little, and then turns over
on his other side and sleeps another twenty-four.
Increased mental stamina undoubtedly accrued to the Southern negro from race
intermixture, in spite of the sinister circumstances under which race intermixture went on.
Owing however, to the mutual reserve, to which we have just alluded, this benefit is fast
disappearing. Everywhere at the South, except in cities where, for obvious reasons, sexual
commerce between whites and blacks is not followed by the same social penalties, the negro
is unmistakably breeding back to the original African physiognomy, and, unless this process
of retroversion is checked, the event must be most disastrous to the average intelligence of
the black race.
Worse still. Not only has the new regime unsettled the negro in all his economic relations
by withdrawing him from the dominion of the authority that in some form or other is
indispensable to his economic value, not only has it imparted superadded energy to his

reactionary tendencies by isolating him from every kind of refining contact with the white
race and throwing him back upon his primordial type, but as a further effect of his
emancipation from authority and the habits of subjection that authority created, it has
stimulated his grosser nature into full activity. Without the exaggeration of local pride, it may
be said that the simile of Lucas in the verses so dear to every Southern heart, “as violets our
virgins pure and tender,” simply expresses in a poetic form the deep-seated deference for
womanhood, that only less than the virtue of its objects, renders crimes against female
chastity exceptionally rare at the South among the whites. Yet, surely, of all contradictions,
it is one of the most ghastly, that in this very community a white woman does not dare to
leave unattended the curtilage of her house for fear that the libidinous hand of a bestial
savage may be laid upon her. If a negro is killed in a brawl, there are always Jacobins, like
Senator Chandler, drunk with the wild riot of their own evil passions, to stigmatise the entire
Southern people as murderers. Yet there is not one of these men who does not know, silent
as they are on the subject, that scarcely is a morning newspaper laid upon a breakfast table
in the Union that does not narrate a nameless outrage, all but peculiar to the negro, followed,
it is true, invariably, by the keen and swift vengeance that, tinder the sense of a stringent
necessity, however mistaken, has almost supplanted legal procedure in such cases but too
often perpetrated under circumstances of sickening atrocity. This subject is one from which
even the cold eye of philosophical disquisition shrinks, but nothing better illustrates than
offences of this sort, sternly redressed as they are, not only what a thoughtless thrall to his
momentary appetites the negro is, but how much the difficulty of dealing with him is likely
to increase as years go on.
So much for one of the two antagonistic races. Should sectional passion and party lust
succeed in placing the destinies of the South under the control of this race, while it remains
what it is at this hour, then well might the Southern people exclaim, with a profounder
significance than the poet ever dreamed:
“Black is the badge of hell,
The hue of dungeons, and the scowl of night!”
And what of the other race? There is no need of a detailed comparison. It is enough to
say that it is in substance the Anglo-Saxon race, the race that has asserted its inborn dignity
and power under every constellation of the heavens, and, in the sublime language of Edmund
Waller, has trod with a steady foot even upon the billows of the sea; the race of reformed
religion and its purified altars; the race of home and its sweet, tranquil joys; the race of
representative institutions and constitutional restraints; the race of colonization and battle;
the race of letters, invention, industry and commerce; the one race that has proved itself
capable of reducing human infirmity to the wedded sway of liberty and law.
In England, it has produced Shakespeare and Milton, Marlborough and Wellington, Pitt
and Gladstone, Arkwright and Stevenson. In the Northern States of the Union, it has
produced Emerson and Hawthorne, Grant and McClellan, Franklin and Webster, Morse and
Edison. And it is no idle vaunt to say that Washington, Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Henry,
Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, Calhoun, Davis and the people and the civilization, of which

they were the flower, will for all time attest that the blood of this race has lost none of its
energy, when, mixed with a smaller infusion of foreign elements than anywhere else in the
United States, it starts out on its circuit from the Southern heart.
These are the two races that constitute the population of the South. It is important to
bear in mind that they are not simply distinguished from each other by vivid contrasts,
physical, moral and intellectual, but are jealously divided from each other in all the personal
relations of life by a relentless caste, founded upon the contrasts. This is true even of the
North, although nowhere in that section is the negro sufficient in numbers to be a source of
immediate political danger, or to make the friction of his presence generally felt in the
ordinary round of daily existence. If it were not so, why is it that the negro manifests such a
strange reluctance about crossing Mason and Dixon’s line—only a few hours away—and
taking up his residence in communities where the old barriers of dislike and disqualification
have long ago been torn down? No one needs an answer to this question who subscribes to
a Northern newspaper, let alone all other sources of popular knowledge. It is because the
negro has learnt for himself what prominent representatives of his race have publicly-declared
again and again, that he does not escape race bias by going Northwards, and that, if the
instinctive disfavor of the whites there is not displayed towards him in all the various phases
that it is at the South, or so quickly under provocation as it is at the South, it is because the
spaces between his elbows and theirs are wider, and he is too weak, numerically, to be a
menace to order and property. All the same the disfavor exists, deep seated, intuitive, ready
at any moment to break out into angry inflammation. Northern legislatures do not pass laws
requiring separate coaches for white and black passengers on railroad trains. What Southern
State would do it, if a white man could board a train within its borders and find a negro face
here and there only to invite his listless curiosity? Northern legislatures do not pass laws
against miscegenation. What Southern State would do it if it knew that, even though race
repellency were to cease and the two races were to attract each other, it could swallow down
its black infusion like a dose of nauseous medicine at a single gulp and with a single wry face?
It is not until diseases of the body politic are felt or apprehended throughout its entire
sensitive area that the vis medicatrix legum is invoked. So long as fond theories of human
relationship, potently seductive in all their Utopian forms to human optimism, can be
preserved with impunity in any event, however remote, there is not likely to be a call for the
political physician. But it is unquestionably true that the negro at the North is exposed to a
race proscription differing only in kind and degree from that to which he is exposed at the
South. As long ago as 1880 there were nearly a half million of negroes residing in the
Northern States. In some of these States they and their increase now hold the balance of
political power. How comes it, then, we may ask the sublime moralists of the Senate chamber,
who so generously maintain that God made of one blood all nations of men except the
Mongolian, that no one of these negroes is ever sent to Congress by a Northern constituency?
How many negro governors, members of State legislatures, mayors, aldermen, judges,
prosecuting attorneys, sheriffs, court clerks, bank presidents, railroad presidents, bookkeepers,
or railroad conductors are there in the Northern States? When the Postmaster

General concludes that the race is entitled to a few scattered post-offices, is it from the eager
North that the post-offices are selected, or is it from the reluctant South? Why is it that when
even so talented a negro as Frederick Douglass who, curiously enough, in the estimation of
Senator Ingalls, is “greater by his Caucasian reënforcement than by his African blood,” is to
be provided for, he is given either an office in a disfranchised community in the United States
or a mission to a black Republic? How much are negro lawyers and doctors at the North
patronized by white clients or patients? Are blacks freely admitted there to the various social
and religious organizations that effect so much for this world and the next? Do they not
sometimes complain that, cosmopolitan as is the city of New York, it is almost impossible for
them to rent houses in that city outside of a cul de sac or some forbidding thoroughfare.
Indeed, have not even colored clergymen been heard to allege that New Jersey hotels, usually
so covetous of guests, become as secluded as nunneries when they present themselves at the
door, gripsack in hand. Black policemen and firemen are not unknown in Southern cities.
How many are there in Northern? It is a common thing for Southern whites to work side by
side with the negro in the cotton and tobacco fields. How is this companionship relished
when a Pittsburgh manufacturer undertakes to introduce blacks into his rolling mill? These
and a thousand other questions of like character might be put, and there is not one of them
that can be honestly answered without sustaining the truth of what we have said with
reference to the existence of race prejudice at the North.
What is true, however, of the North is, of course, still more strikingly true of the South,
for all the conditions favorable to race prejudice are in the South actively, incessantly and
ubiquitously at work. There the line of the division runs with terrible distinctness through the
entire organization of society. Intermarriage is universally or all but universally inhibited by
constitutional or statutory provisions, and, if it were under no legal ban, would be as
effectively inhibited by custom. Sexual intercourse between a negro man and a white woman,
against the will of the latter, is avenged by the surest, the fleetest and the most absolutely
pitiless nemesis that ever silently and irresistibly sped to its mark. Sexual intercourse between
a negro man and a white woman, with the consent of the latter, is as rare as buggery and
when it does occur awakens very much the same sensations in the superior race as that
unnatural crime. A negro never enters the house of a white person except as a menial. A
white person never enters the house of a negro except on an errand of business, mercy or
charity. Errands of the latter two descriptions were common enough while slavery lasted, and
are still occasionally prompted by ties then formed, but they are becoming fewer and fewer
as death severs the ligaments of the past and the chasm between the rising generations of the
two races steadily widens. Justly or unjustly too, as at the North, the white race has settled
down to the conviction that the negro is unfitted for any but the ruder vocations, and, if he
transcends the limits of these vocations, he must expect to secure his patronage solely from
his own people. Go into a public schoolhouse where white children or white youths are
taught, and there is not a black face there. Go a few blocks or a few miles further into a public
schoolhouse where black children or black youths are taught, and there is not a white face
there, unless it be that of the teacher, and the black race is not more anxious than the white
to everywhere displace him with a black substitute. Enter a church of the one or the other
race and the same phenomenon greets the gaze. The galleries in the churches of the whites,
which were once set aside for the blacks, have long ago been abandoned by them to cobwebs
and dirt daubers. If a white person enters a church of the blacks, when the strident voice of
the preacher is floating out over the fields, and the old men are groaning and rocking their
bodies to relieve their repressed emotions, and the women are shrieking and swooning like
pythonesses, and all the other concomitants of the nervous disorder, that passes on such
occasions for religion, are fully developed, the sudden lull in the excitement and sidelong
glances will easily enable him to judge how far he is wanted. At the country store, the railroad
station, and the voting precinct, the blacks gather in one group and the whites in another,
set over against each other like two warring chemical elements that may at any moment unite
in an explosion. At the voting precinct, of course, the antithesis is most glaring. To one side
of the ballot box stands the mass of black voters, sullen or light-hearted, accordingly as the
last flaw of their mercurial temperament blows them about, demanding in silence more
expressive than any words that the human lips ever syllabled the money or the civil
institutions of the rival race. To the other stands the mass of white voters, firm, self-centred,
tense as the single cool man that walks with a cocked pistol in one hand and his life in the
other. And so with every other point of proximity between the two races, for there is no
contact but collision. In some of the Southern States, if a negro purchases a railroad ticket,
he must find a seat in the cars or compartments reserved for him. In others, where, for
reasons, in nowise suggested by relaxing prejudice, he is not under this necessity, unless he
desires to gratify race enmity, he instinctively seeks the side of another negro. Theatres and
hotels are practically closed to him. Let him enter a circus, the one place of amusement, to
which he is addicted in common with the whites, and the tier after tier of unrelieved black
countenances, ascending to the roof of the tent, opposite to the tier after tier of unrelieved
white, tells him that an unrelenting law of the human heart has fixed his place. Occupying
the same soil, sustaining to each other usually the relation of employer and employee, or of
landlord and tenant, nearly equal in numbers, dreadfully unequal in intelligence and morale,
the two races are as far removed from each other in sympathy and mutual interest as if they
were inhabitants of different countries. And mark how radical and invincible the antagonism
is. That the race line should be thus drawn, it is not necessary that the negro should be a fullblooded
black, or even closely approximate that character. Partus sequitur ventrem alike
applies to him whether he is an unmitigated African or has just enough African blood in his
veins to crisp his hair or to lend a faint saffron tint to his cheek. In either event there is
between him and the white race a great gulf cast. The mulatto may formulate, and does
formulate his distinctions too, but they receive no recognition on his paternal side.
And it is but sober truth to assert that the caste underlying this state of things has simply
been confirmed by the abrupt elevation of the negro to citizenship. If the negro had merely
been manumitted, and had then been exclusively turned over to the wisdom and justice of
the Southern whites, he would most assuredly have been the victim of temporary oppression.
The transmitted ideas of the slave era, the bitterness of the recent struggle, the character of
the negro himself, would have rendered any other result impossible. But if the Southern
whites had come to the conclusion that the negro was destined to be a permanent element
in their corporate life, they would as the reconciliation of the sections advanced, and the
appeal to their generosity and fairness became stronger and stronger, have devised a modus
vivendi between the races that would have been the offspring of their own free will and
experience, and would therefore have afforded a solid and stable earnest of liberal modifications
as the negro indicated his title to them. Forever barred from a return to slavery by a
change in the organic law of the land, convinced from their own observation that it was
better even for themselves that the negro should be a freeman than a slave, compelled by the
necessities of their position, maugrê every backward leaning, to deal wisely and justly with
him, their own enlightened self-interest, animated by the clear-sighted and conservative spirit
of local self-government would have slowly accorded to the negro every privilege that he
deserved. In this way the excesses of the Reconstruction period, and its frightful admonitions,
so destructive of all confidence in the negro as a citizen and a voter, might have been
avoided. Fate, however, decreed otherwise. By three or four tremendous strokes of the pen,
partly directed by genuine humanitarianism and honest zeal for abstract rights, and partly by
a disinterested purpose to harmonize the new conditions at the South with what was thoughtfully
believed at the time to be for the best interests of the whole Republic, but far more by
the passionate suggestions of the late conflict, the slave was, through the entirely external
instrumentality of a conqueror, made in every outward respect the political co-equal of his
recent master; an act so utterly inconsistent with every principle of practical statesmanship
and so obviously but the refinement of a constitutional age upon the old sequels of
subjugation, that the Southern people had little resentment to expend upon the subsequent
attempts of the National Legislature to make the same slave their social co-equal as well.
Thus conferred, the political equality of the negro has served only to intensify his social
inequality. Pinned upon the white race by an extraneous power, utterly without regard to
their wishes, they could not but feel that it was little else than another badge of conquest, all
the more hateful because not affixed by the mailed hand of the warrior but by the sleek
attorney hand of legislative oppression, guided by the cool, calculating machinations of the
committee room. The consequence is that finding themselves debarred from denying one
form of equality beyond their control, they have all the more jealously denied others within
their control. What the negro has gained in political privileges, he has lost twice over in
social. The freer his access to the polls, the more difficult has become his access to all the
human relations that law cannot reach. In the normal progress of a despised race, the
political standing always precedes the social, but whatever hopes of social advancement the
negro might have justly based upon a citizenship, conceded by the people with whom his lot
was cast, after he had demonstrated his right to it, he cannot well base such hopes upon a
citizenship granted him by the arbitrary fiat of a third party at a time when he could not, as
he did not, fail to exhibit as slight credentials to political as to social preferment.
Nor should the reader forget here that the race prejudices of the whites are heartily
returned by the blacks. The white man does not more cordially despise the black man than
the black man hates the white man. In Hayti, no white person can own an inch of soil or
indeed obtain any footing but that of bare toleration. In the same island, Sir Spenser St. John
once heard a negro advocate pleading before a black jury defend a member of his race, who
had murdered a white, on the ground that it was only one white the less. So at the South
there are abundant evidences that if the negro but had the power he would not lack the
proscriptive spirit. Every year of the Reconstruction Era saw him more impatient of white
leadership and more disposed to take the reins into his own hands. On the eve of an
important election, it is a common habit in parts of the South for negroes to assemble in the
recesses of the forest at night for the purpose of giving expression to sentiments and aims, so
congenial with the hour and place that they are still reflected in the morose faces and averted
eyes that are noted by the planter or overseer the next day. An ordinary arrest in a negro
quarter in a Southern City, even for a crime committed within the view of the officers, often
brings the whole vicinage about his ears. As a rule, of course, the animus is revealed only in
the covert and indirect forms, characteristic of acknowledged inferiority, for the negro knows
that the blood runs near the skin of the white race, and as yet he cannot altogether shake off
the spell of the conscious mastery that is familiar with every weak spot in his moral and
mental constitution, and that responds with a ready rebuke to every encroachment upon its
reservations. Still, as he recedes further and further from under the direct influence of the
whites, his port becomes more and more aggressive. Now he will content himself with visiting
social ostracism or even corporeal injury upon the black, who has had the courage, when race
feeling was running high, to vote the Democratic ticket. But then again, on another occasion,
when separate tables of the same quality have been provided for the two races by a Steamboat
Company, some “Afro-American” will clamorously insist upon eating with the white
passengers. Again the same heady presumption will induce a negress to throw herself down
with a defiant gesture into a vacant place in a railroad car beside an unprotected white
female. Again, on still another occasion, when a considerable party of negroes are in
possession of a street car, and one or more ladies are standing, the men will effect a careless
ease in retaining their seats, and the women will indulge in ostentatious chatter, that leaves
little doubt as to the person for whom it is intended. The same uneasy sense of inferiority
leads the negro to significantly abjure Christian names and to interlard his conversation with
the prefixes of the post-office and the visiting card.
Pretensions like these the white race might well dismiss with a shrug or a laugh.
Unfortunately, however, race antagonism assumes far more threatening aspects. An
examination of the back files of any daily newspaper for the last year will corroborate the
statement that there is scarcely a Southern State which has not, during that time, been the
scene of a race conflict, involving more or less bloodshed. It is impossible to read the history
of any of these conflicts, which usually originate in trivial causes, without forming the most
painful impressions as to the inflammability of the moral atmosphere that kindles them. The
service of a writ, some real or fancied act of individual injustice, some casual broil between
two members of the opposing races, is at any moment sufficient to start a blaze that does not
expire until the stronger race has inflicted the exemplary measure of retaliation that is
essential to the continuance of its prestige and dominion. Already collisions like these are
constantly occurring, and it is a melancholy reflection that the immediate future is far more
likely to augment than to diminish them. The astonishing fecundity of the negro which is fast
giving him, if the census of 1880 may be believed, a numerical preponderance over the whites
in many of the Southern States, and other causes, upon which we have already touched,
make this only too probable.
In the meantime, there is not a nerve in the happiness or prosperity of the South that
does not feel the festering touch of the conditions upon which we have been dwelling. As a
slave, the negro exercised a very pernicious effect on her material welfare by confining within
the narrowest limits feverish energies, that might under different auspices have been directed
into various channels of peaceful activity. The centre of gravity to which all her interests had
to be adjusted, the shuttlecock of sectional rivalries, the vortex of every storm, lowly and
ignoble as he was, he unwittingly had his revenge in the morbid extent to which he
monopolized her attention. One consequence of this concentration of public attention upon
the negro was, of course, to impart an extraordinary unity and intensity of purpose to the
Southern people, that disseminated political information far and wide, bred a remarkable
aptitude for public affairs, and, through its unnatural momentum, prolonged the political
ascendency of the South beyond the normal term prescribed by the expanding population and
wealth of the North. But these advantages were dearly purchased at the price that the South
was all the time paying for them in the corresponding neglect of her material resources and
the sectional animosities that contentions over the negro implanted.
Though the negro is no longer a passive but an active factor in political movements at
the South, he is still the creaking and heated pivot upon which all such movements turn. No
one who has not lived in what is known there as a black belt can realize how far the thoughts
and conversation of the people are colored by the suggestions of his presence. His ominous
shadow falls athwart every lintel and lends a sombre tint to every ray of reviving prosperity.
How is this alien, unassimilable, ignorant, immoral, thriftless, corrupt mass of voters,
darkening the face of the South like the overhanging skirts of a nimbus cloud, to be
illuminated or dispelled? These questions address themselves every day and hour to every
reflective man and woman at the South. And they are questions to which the efforts that she
has made on behalf of the negro since the war return no answer. Out of her impoverished
resources, she has heroically supplied the negro as freely as she could with educational and
benevolent aid, and yet what compensation has there been for her generosity and self-denying
sense of duty? Not only have they produced no sensible improvement in the moral and
intellectual condition of the negro, but apparently they have not awakened in him a solitary
sensation of gratitude. As ready as before to lift his hand against the only hand that can
extend him assistance, which will prove a blessing instead of a curse to him, as prompt as ever
to league himself with every desperate crusade against the banded intelligence and property
of the community with which his fortunes are bound up, and to submit his feet to the lead
of every drunken Trinculo or Stephano that comes along with cozening dreams of wild
license, it is not strange that the white race is growing sick and tired of him and is resolved
that, if there is to be a struggle for race supremacy, it will prosecute that struggle with its
usual degree of unfaltering firmness and spirit. From the cruelest experience it has learnt to
know that whatever assails the honor or the safety of the South, whether it be an attempt to
stain the financial credit of Virginia, or to impose a debauching lottery upon Louisiana, or
some other nefarious scheme, concocted by the most depraved whites, is simply regarded by
him as affording him another opportunity to divide the white race and to feed his resentments
upon their weakness and abasement.
In spite of the results, precipitated by the Constitutional Amendments, if the negro were
not constantly the victim of outside interference, the process of segregation, that is now
completely separating him from the white race, might yet be arrested, and reversed
tendencies produce more harmonious relations between him and the latter. Thrown entirely
upon his own expedients, he might be intelligent enough to see that the only wise and certain
way of dissolving the solid opposition of the whites was by according to them the full portion
of deference, that is due to their better opportunities in the past, if nothing else, recognizing
the mutual dependence of the two races under existing circumstances, and exercising the
franchise upon some other principle than mere race rancor. Such a policy as this perhaps
presupposes a far greater amount of sagacious patience and foresight than belongs to the
negro. If this be so, at any rate, however, in the event suggested, he would soon reconcile
himself to the conviction that there resided in the will and directing intellect of the white
race an indomitable power of self-assertion that, no matter what might be his numbers or
paper rights, he could never hope to break down by blind impact merely. With the formation
of this conviction, the mass of the race would sink into a political apathy even deeper than
that which has already been occasioned in many parts of the South by his observation that,
whether the President of the United States be a Republican or a Democrat, his personal
liberty is secure, the wearing off of the first novelty of the ballot, and his repeated political
reverses. How probable this is the increased lethargy, that followed the recent success of the
great national party, that is identified in the mind of the negro with white rule at the South,
clearly discloses. In either case, the negro would gain, for in either case the prejudices and
apprehensions of the whites would abate. Party dissensions would spring up among them. The
interests and ambitions, engendered by these dissensions, would hatch competition for the
negro vote, and enable the negro to play off one party against the other by holding out his
support to the one that promised him the most liberal treatment. In this way, personal and
political ties would be created between him and the white race that would tend to stay their
present estrangement, promote mutual friendliness and confidence between them, and clear
his pathway of every artificial obstruction that blocks his progress towards the acquisition of
the external advantages that secure consideration and respect. Relieved from the fear of
negro domination, the whites would be more generous, more just, more forbearing. Taught
to look entirely to himself and to the whites at his own doors for the amelioration of his
condition, the negro would be less presumptuous, less hostile to the other race, and more
disposed to substitute the claims of solid attainment for the claims of empty mimicry.
Concession would follow concession, each one leading naturally to the next because the

preceding one was a normal stage in an orderly and logical progression. Admitting that the
negro is capable of substantial and lasting improvement, and that the white man and he
could occupy in amity the same territory under circumstances that did not absolutely
guarantee the political ascendency and the race integrity of the former, it is certain that only
under the circumstances just described could the negro ever insert the entering wedge of
social and real political equality.
But it is just outside interference that the negro always has invited, and to all
appearances always will invite, so long as the population of the South continues to be dual
as it is to-day. He has not been the active and efficient auxiliary in curtailing the political
strength of his former masters that he was expected by the Republican party to be when it
made him a citizen. On the contrary, all history does not furnish a more signal example of the
utter fatuity of expectations, based upon a priori inferences, than is to be found in the manner
in which his former masters have vindicated in his person the claims of violated nature over
the subtlest and most complex contrivances of law. Constitutional amendments, elaborate
systems of statutory equality, the military force of the nation have all at one time or another
been called in for the purpose of standing the cone upon its apex and making the law of
gravitation operate upwards instead of downwards. But not more impotent to restrain the
waves of the Hellespont were the chains of Xerxes than were these agencies to produce a real
equality between the former master and the former slave, and to transfer to ignorance and
barbarism and landlessness the same share of influence that naturally and rightfully attaches
to intelligence and civilization, and property. Though every governmental function was in the
hands of the blacks, though the ballot box was beset with serried masses of federal bayonets,
though the dejection of defeat and disfranchisement and of humiliations worse than either
was still strong, the white people of the South reclaimed the supremacy that belonged to
them with a facility that can only be compared to the facility with which the rising tide
reclaims the deserted margin of the sea. Restored to the full control of their State
governments, represented in Congress almost exclusively by persons of their own choice, they
might not unnaturally bestow a bitter laugh upon the miscarriage of the policy that was
intended to exact an opprobrious and perpetual security for their bondage, if they did not feel
that, whether negro suffrage abridges or doubles their political power, it is in either event an
affliction and a mockery.
    It might have been supposed that the inability of the Republican party, demonstrated
over and over again, to prop up the negro in such a way as to qualify him to cope on equal
terms with the white man would have induced it to let race relations at the South alone. It
is needless, however, to say that this is not so. It is true that a marked change has taken place
in the attitude of Northern sentiment towards the negro, due to the subsidence of sectional
passions, the futility of past efforts to compound the white and black races at the South into
one homogeneous whole by forced processes, the sense of common danger, inspired by the
insoluble communities of Chinese and other undesirable immigrants in the heart of the West
and North, the growing conviction, based upon forfeited opportunities, that the negro is a
mauvais sujet, who claims a larger share of the national attention and patience than he

deserves, and the closer personal and commercial ties between the two sections that are being
woven by the mighty industrial movement that has arisen at the South and is absorbing so
much Northern capital and energy. Nothing can be more certain than that, in the ratio, in
which the negro gained by the estrangement of the North and the South, he will lose by their
reconciliation. It is also true that the change mentioned has already been so decided that the
day has passed when the South could be singled out as a distinct target for oppressive
legislation, designed to promote the interests of the Republican party, and that such
legislation must now, ostensibly at least, apply to the other sections of the Union. We want
no better proof of this than the insidious force bill, pending in Congress, which proposes to
transfer the control of national elections from the hands, which have held it since the
adoption of the Federal Constitution, into hands, that are expected to make one more effort
to put the heel of the black race on the neck of the white. And this fact is one of incalculable
value to the South. It converts every undue stretch of federal authority into a common bond
of sympathy between her and the rest of the Union. It hastens the end of the political
isolation that is alike distasteful to her cordial instincts and inimical to her selfish interests.
    Nevertheless, the disposition of the Republican party to intermeddle with the domestic
affairs of the South is still so alert that its success invariably fills the minds of her people with
the gloomiest forebodings of political persecution and social discord. Whatever it may
hereafter become, with the decadence of sectional jealousies and the adoption of more
conservative counsels, it is at present hopelessly sectional in its organization and purposes.
Forever cheated by the tempting solicitations of an immense vote, captivatingly available in
point of theory and cruelly illusory in point of fact, saturated with traditional prejudices, that
are untiring in devising new means for harrowing the tranquillity of the South, the Southern
people would be more than human if they did not set their faces like flint against its
    Most lamentable for every reason are the consequences of this intermeddling.
Lamentable to the negro, because, when the Republican party is in power, he not only
remains a negro but becomes the supple instrument of centralizing encroachments upon local
autonomy, and, therefore, proportionably the more obnoxious to the white race; lamentable
to the white race, because Republican rule plants a Dublin Castle in the South, elevates to
the local federal offices the most ignorant and irresponsible members of her population,
damps hope, disorders industry, involves every Southern State in anxiety and turmoil, and
distills blistering dews upon every olive branch that the one section holds out to the other.
No better evidence of these facts can be found than in the improved race relations, sectional
good feeling, and marvelous quickening of every industrial impulse that ensued at the South
upon the election of President Cleveland.
    Hence, the solid South, the conspicuous phenomenon that has so unjustly, and yet so
artfully, been used to convince the honest and unprejudiced masses of the North that the
Southern people are unreconciled to the results of the war and full of smouldering hostility
to the general government. Analyzed, it is found to be merely the mode in which the fear of
negro domination, established by external intervention, has organized itself. If there were no

negroes at the South, and the Republican party were to adjust its necessities to that fact, as
it would then, despite every lingering incentive of the past, unquestionably soon do, the white
race would, in the briefest period, split up into party divisions along the same general lines
as the North. The clashing of individual ambitions, and the natural diversity of human
antipathies and convictions would, in any event, guarantee that. But an additional guarantee
for it would be found in the infant industries, that are leading thousands of Southern
Democrats to look with favor upon the tenet of protection, that is so pertinaciously cherished
by the Republican party. As it is, however, protection to factory chimneys is but a small
matter compared with protection to domestic hearthsides. How deeply the Southern people
appreciate this is exhibited in the solidity just mentioned that resists with the tensile strength
of steel every centrifugal influence, however urgent. It is a most painful fact that the South
is compelled by her negro problem to sternly deny herself all the great benefits that flow from
party strife and the agitation of party issues. No matter how variant are the views of her
people upon the questions of public policy that keep the rest of the Union in a state of
healthful dissension, she must, at any cost, dress every break in her alignment in the face of
the over-shadowing issue that is with her the very issue of life and death. There are no parties
at the South but the white man’s party and the black man’s party. There is no issue but the
race issue. Even the electoral and administrative reforms, that sweep from time to time over
the rest of the country, must be carefully weighed by her with reference to their probable
effect in affording a freer scope to the dangers that lurk in the ignorance and race temper of
her black population. Often, from considerations of this sort, she is constrained to reject such
reforms because they do not comport with the exigencies of her peculiar situation, when, if
she were unhampered, she would be one of the first sections of the Union to adopt them.
Such in faint outline are the conditions that surround the Negro Problem. It seems to us
that to barely state them ought to be sufficient to expose the fatuous impolicy, not to say
wickedness, of any further attempt upon the part of the federal government to modify them
by coercive legislation. Upon some other occasion, we propose to consider the remedies that
they call for.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in 1891, before the cutoff of January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1946, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 76 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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