What must be the Status of the Colored Race?

By 1867, the growing rift in the Republican Party that was perceived by some to be undermining the efforts of Unionists to stop the still strong Secessionists from challenging the newly reconstituted state and federal laws that were being enacted.

In Holden’s memoirs we find his own thoughts reflective of the emotional turmoil facing the nation as a whole: how and to what extent would race be a factor in defining citizenship. In the Standard of April 24, 1865, he wrote:

"One of the most difficult and perplexing questions to be settled is the relation which must subsist in the future in this state between the white and black populations. Everyone agrees that slavery will cease to exist, but the question now is, What must be the relative condition of the two races for the next few months? And, What must be the ultimate status of the colored race?....If a state convention should abolish slavery, that body would most probably define the relations between the two races; and if the states should adopt the amendment proposed by Congress abolishing the institution, the latter body will define those relations. Meanwhile we say to the colored people remain where you are, cultivate habits of industry, preserve your morals against the manifold temptations that will beset you, and endeavor by your conduct to secure the respect and confidence of all good people." From: Memoirs of William H. Holden at Documenting the American South: http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/holden/holden.html

This was an absolutely intolerable position to Albion Tourgee and others like him who advocated a policy that acknowledges a citizenship of all (men) without respect to color and, the supremacy of the national, not state, government to uphold that citizenship. Holden’s remarks never explicitly entertain ideas of conferring citizenship on African Americans. The division between his and Tourgee’s basic beliefs in integrated versus segregated social and political development would be manifested again and again in years to come, even among African American leaders like Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois.

In a letter marked “Private” from William Dunn, Jr., dated April 20, 1867, Dunn (a notary from Lenoir County in North Carolina), he entreats Tourgee to do what he can to ameliorate the situation, “…instead of aiding to pull each other down, the Register and Standard should be earnestly engaged in holding each other up, and bringing your guns to bear on a common enemy.”

Letter, William Dunn, Jr., to Albion Winegar Tourgée, 1867-04-20. Courtesy of Chautauqua County Historical Society.