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"Gentlemen Of The Convention,—I hardly know how to express my thanks for the high honor you have conferred upon me; an honor I could scarcely have dreamed of enjoying, for I consider that there has never been and never will be a more important assembly than this now convened here. We have met to deliberate in a Christian spirit upon the best interests of our people,—■ holding up before God and men as our motto, 'Equal rights before the law/ yet understanding it to be wise and proper that, whether in doors or out of doors, we should bear ourselves respectfully toward all men. Let us avoid all harsh expressions toward anybody or about any line of policy. Let us keep constantly in mind that this State is our home, and that the white people are our neighbors and many of them our friends. We and the white people have got to live here together. Some people talk of emigration for the black race, some of expatriation, and some of colonization. I regard this as all nonsense. We have been living together for a hundred years or more, and we have got to live together still; and the best way is to harmonize our feelings as much as possible, and to treat all men respectfully. Eespectability will always gain respect, not from ruffians, it is true, but from gentlemen; and I am convinced that the major part of the people of North Carolina are gentlemen and ladies. I do not mean one class alone, but the major part of the people, both white and black. That being the case, if we respect ourselves we shall be respected. I think the best way to prepare a people for the exercise of their rights is to put them in practice of those rights, and so I think the time has come when we should be given ours; but I am well aware that we shall not gain them all at once. Let us have faith, and patience, and moderation, yet assert always that we want three things, — first, the right to give evidence in the courts; second, the right to be represented in the jury-box; and third, the right to put votes in the ballotbox. These rights we want, these rights we contend for, and these rights, under God, we must ultimately have."
The Convention was very much like the mass Convention of white folks, "only a little more so." There were parties, cliques, demagogues, ambitious men, — there was "log-rolling," " wire-pulling," and a general exhibition of most of the arts by which would-be leaders attempt to carry their ends against the will of the mass. It was pleasant to see, however, that the great body of the delegates not only had a pretty clear conception of what they wanted to do, but, as is not always the case with convention delegates, also of wrhat they wanted not to do. The men who, by virtue of some education, some travel, and some association with Northern people, aspired to rule matters for their own interest and aggrandizement were very quietly shelved on the second day, and thereafter found that their power was gone. So, too, those of passionate nature and demagogical spirit, who undertook to uplift themselves on the breakers of angry epithet and inflammatory declamation, were also put aside after the first day. That there were some droll scenes is, of course, true. Many of the delegates wrere like great noisy, ignorant children, and acted very much as a drove of such children do when they "play" convention. Others knew nothing of any meetings but the religious gatherings of their own people, and appeared to imagine that tears and shouts and sobs and ejaculations were as much in order here as in the prayer-meetings of the rural districts. The natural habit of the negro to exaggerate showed itself on the first day and in the first hour in a scramble for a seventh VicePresidency, and afterwards worked itself into furious speeches either about nothing or on wholly immaterial points. The dramatic element of the negro character came to the aid of his vivid imagination, and there were touches of pantomime that would have been instructive even to old Gabriel Eavel himself. Moreover, in the line of comedyacting, a dozen of these delegates were competent to give lessons to Warren, or Clarke, or Jefferson; and three or four of the eight sessions were, as pure entertainments, better than two hours with Gough or any other master of humor known to the Northern public. The President's place was no office of mere honor, and the most diligent use of his
powers would have been unequal to the task of keeping quiet and uniform good order.
Yet, when all these things are admitted, there is to be commended the sincere earnestness of the delegates as a body, the liberal spirit of their debates, the catholicity of their views of duty in the present emergency, the patient and cheerful tone of heart and head which prevailed, and the unfailing good-humor which bridged all chasms and overcame all difficulties. Their extra passion came only from extra zeal; their turbulence at times was merely the sudden flashing of warm good-will for their people; their unseemly drollery was but a manifestation of their natural disposition to enjoyment even under the most adverse circumstances.
Perhaps a dozen of the delegates were not native to this State; but, with few exceptions, those who took part in the debates or were in any way responsible for the action of the Convention, were not only North-Carolinians by birth, but slaves by growth, — men who have always lived and expect to continue living in the State. It is also worth remarking that it was really a Convention of colored men, not a colored men's Convention engineered by white men. It was even so strictly a Convention of the negroes of North Carolina, that there was some sensitive jealousy toward one or two delegates born in this State, but educated in the schools and under the influences of the North. "We meant it for a Convention of our own people," said one of the committee to me, "and these outsiders from Wilmington and Newbern shall not control us." The deficiencies of the Convention will, of course, be charged to the negroes of the State: its excellences, properly and in simple justice, also belong to them.
The leader of the body was Mr. John H. Harris, of this city; a man of scarcely one eighth white blood; a former slave who did his dally task with other farm negroes, and sat for hours, year in and year Out, after that task was accomplished, in the fireplace, with/ alpine knot in one hand and a book in the other; who is, in the true sense, self-educated; an upholsterer by trade, and, latterly, a teacher by profession; a plain, patient, unassuming man, whose wise judgment, catholic views, genuine culture, and honest manhood, fit him to adorn any station in any society.
Others of the principal delegates were Mr. A. H. Galloway, of Fayetteville, of some service in our army, much association with Northern people, and of exceedingly radical and Jacobinical spirit; Mr. John P. Sampson, of Wilmington, a young man of ability, liberal education in Northern schools, and somewhat wordy radicalism; Mr. Isham Swett, barber, of Fayetteville, of rare dramatic talent, mature years, ready speech, moderate views; Mr. John R. Good, barber, of Newbern, of thoughtful heart and gray head and simple gentlemanhood; Mr. John Randolph, Jr., of Greensboro, carpenter by trade and teacher by profession, radical in desire, but conservative in action, longing for much, but content to make haste slowly; Mr. J. P. Shanks, of Charlotte, of few public, but many private words, and all of them words of soberness; Rev. Alexander Barr, of Raleigh, diffident and unassuming, but of weight in all councils; Sergeant Foster, of the First North Carolina Heavy Artillery, a good soldier, of few words and careful deeds; Rev. George A. Rue, late chaplain of the Thirty-second United States Colored Troops, a pure African, of six years' ministerial service in .Massachusetts, whom Northern favor has made neither foolish nor haughty.
A great many unimportant matters were needlessly brought before the Convention, and there was much talk on trivial affairs, and a deal of wordy debate in respect to so«ae legitimate business. Yet even all this was not without its value; for it brought out many facts and opinions of general use to the delegates as individuals, and served to help them to closer fellowship and more unity of sentiment in respect to the future. On the whole, the Convention did its work with commendable directness; and there were a number of speeches, and one or two somewhat lengthy debates, that would have been creditable to any white man's convention, with even picked delegates.
A dozen resolutions were reported and adopted, some of which, as usual, were unimportant. It must be said, however, that they all meant something, — which is more than can be said of resolutions often adopted at conventions in the North, — and that their general sense was wise, liberal, and appreciative. *
The chief resolution declares that it is not the policy of the colored people to flock to the cities in too large numbers, and urges them to remain at their old homes and at their old employments, unless good reasons exist for changing; advises them to live soberly and honestly, work faithfully and industriously, save money and buy a few acres of land as soon as possible; build themselves houses, and sacredly observe the marriage relation; avoid quarrels, and cultivate friendly relations with the white people; help each other, and educate themselves and their children.
Other resolutions which were adopted express reverence for the memory of "those heroes, John Brown, Robert G. Shaw," numerous others of less note, "and last and greatest, Abraham Lincoln "; hail with satisfaction the passage of the Constitutional amendment, the organization of the Freedmen's Bureau, the establishment of schools for the education of seventy-five thousand colored children, the admission of John S. Rock to the bar of the Supreme Court, the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the recognition of Hayti and Liberia; thank the good people of the North for their aid so freely extended to the freedmen in a thousand ways; thank that portion of the Republican party led by Messrs. Chase, Greeley, Sumner, and others, for its efforts to