From Books to Ballots....


On April 30, 1890, Tourgee sent a letter to Henry Cabot Lodge, Congressional representative from Massachusetts, chiding the Republican leadership for its weak attempts to protect the voting rights of African Americans in the South. He analogized that the Congressional conviction that New York’s “supervisor law” would be successfully implemented in the South was similar to the expression, “the rod and reel in the corner yonder peculiarly effective in killing trout…would be equally effective in taking grizzly bears.”

Tourgee warned Lodge that failure to pass the legislation would have dire consequences for the future of the Republican Party that had been promising fair elections for the last twenty years, but had never “redeemed” that promise. In his view, the most effective way to ensure fair and safe elections of national representatives required the national government to attend to its own business by enactment of a national election law. Tourgee ends his letter warning: “If you do so (enact a national election law) the mistakes of the Reconstruction epoch will have been half-retrieved. If not, they will only have been emphasized by fresh folly.” His predictions were borne out when beginning in 1891 most states in the South and some in the North began to pass a series of election “reform” laws, including the poll tax, grandfather clause and others, to further disenfranchise African American citizens. The national government finally did step in - but not until the 1965 Election Reform Act.

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Letter, Albion Winegar Tourgée to Henry cabot Lodge, 1890-04-30. Courtesy of Chautauqua County Historical Society.

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