Sunday, January 20, 2013

Edward Bates on Black Citizenship

Terrific blog post by Mike Vorenberg on the Times' "Opinionator" blog:

Attorney General Edward Bates
Though it is forgotten today, Attorney General Edward Bates's opinion in the Selsey case revolutionized American citizenship. Two weeks after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a headline in The Detroit Free Press asked, “Is a Negro Eligible to the Presidency?” The editorial that followed offered an unequivocal “Yes.” A fiercely pro-Democratic paper, The Free Press despised the fact that the presidency, along with “all official positions,” could now “be open to the nigger.”In the early weeks of 1863, such racist invective peppered the rhetoric of those disgusted by Lincoln’s edict of Jan. 1. But The Free Press was not talking about the Emancipation Proclamation when it declared “negro” eligibility for the presidency a “monstrous result.” Rather, it was talking about a document that history has tended to neglect, even though at the time many saw it as a critical adjunct to the Proclamation: the opinion of Attorney General Edward Bates declaring that free African-Americans born in the United States were citizens.

Read the rest here.  

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