Foster, Lafayette Sabine (1806-1880) to Mr. Wakeman
Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00544
Author/Creator: Foster, Lafayette Sabine (1806-1880)
Place Written: Norwich, Connecticut
Type: Autograph letter signed
Date: 5 October 1866
Pagination: 6 p. ; 23 x 14.3 cm.
Summary of Content: Foster, a U.S. senator from Connecticut, discusses his views on reconstruction with Wakeman, a lawyer. Foster says that he would restrict the right to vote to those with ”capacity and virtue,” but that it would be ”arbitrary, unjust, and tyrannical to make any discriminations…on account of color…” Writing extensively about the rights, especially voting rights, of the ”negro,” he states ”There is no more sense in talking of a man’s natural right to vote, than there is in talking of his natural right to be the Chief Justice, or the President of the United States…It is dangerous to commit so important a power to any who have not both capacity and virtue - I would restrict the right of suffrage to those who had both - to such I would give it, no matter about their color, the ignorant and vicious I would exclude…”
Historical Era: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877
Full Transcript: Norwich, Con., Oct. 5. 1866 -, My dear Sir,, In your favor of the 3d, recd. last eveg., you ask my views as to the reconstruction of the States -, Briefly then, I think the late rebel States should be allowed representation in both branches of Congress as soon as they elect their [inserted: Senators & Representatives] according to the requirements of the Constitution and laws of the United States - Persons so elected must be loyal to the United States, and I am content to take as the test of loyalty, the oaths now prescribed by the Constitution & laws, admitting those  who can take those oaths, and excluding those who cannot - So much for reconstruction -, Then ”in regard to the negro.” - He is now, unquestionably, a citizen of the United States, whatever may have been his former condition - As a citizen, it is arbitrary, unjust, and tyrannical, to make any discriminations against him on account of color - A citizen with black hair, or black skin, should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as one whose hair or skin is of a different color -,  Of course this disposes of the question of suffrage, so far as color is concerned - I may add however, that Congress has not, in my opinion, any power to fix the terms of suffrage in any State, and if it had, it would be most unwise to grant it to every male person twenty one years of age - I have no incense at the popular shrine of ”Manhood suffrage” - I would not base the right to vote on muscle, mature or immature, but on mind and morals, making an exception, in favor of those who have borne arms in defense of the country - They should  be allowed to vote - Every man who has fought for his country should be entitled to a voice in its government - As to others, it should depend on intelligence and moral character, and I would raise the standard of both, as now existing in this State, rather than lower it - The ”natural right to vote,” is harped on by many who would perhaps be puzzled to [struck: st] inform us in what state of Nature any men were ever called on to vote at all - In the United States we live in society -organized Society - we live under free institutions of government - these rest, under God, on the intelligence & moral virtue of the people -  We have enough - far too much of ignorance and depravity to struggle with now - Let these dangerous elements be increased, let the control of our government fall into the hands of the ignorant and vicious, and all our institutions, of which we boast so much, the beauty and glory of the whole earth, will be prostrated in the dust, and anarchy and ruin will overspread our land -, There is no more sense in talking of a man’s natural right to vote, than there is in talking of his natural right  to be the Chief Justice, or the President of the United States - Voting is the exercise of political power - [inserted: an elector is an officer -] The vote of one single elector may determine who shall hold either or both those offices - It is dangerous to commit so important a power to any who have not both capacity and virtue - I would restrict the right of suffrage to those who had both - to such I would give it, no matter about their color, the ignorant and vicious I would exclude -, I have written hastily,, but remain yours very truly, L.F.S. Foster, Mr. Wakeman, Esq.
Keywords/Subjects: Reconstruction;, Congress;, African American History;, Suffrage;, Civil Rights;, Education
Sub Era: Reconstruction
LOC Search Terms: United States. Constitution., Constitution--United States., United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865., Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)., United States. Constitution. 14th Amendment.Order Image