Report on the State Convention of the Colored Citizens of New York, Held at Schenectady, September 18-20, 1844.
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Minutes of the Fifth Annual Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of New York, Schenectady, September 18-20, 1844
Whereas, in a republic its great and distinctive feature is the "consent of the people," they signifying their approbation for or their dissent from such rules and laws as have being by the exercise of their voting power,--and whereas a numerous minority of the people of the State of New York (viz: the colored portion thereof) are not permitted fairly to vote and are as a consequence governed without their consent, therefore
Resolved, That for the completion of that feature of Republicanism in our state government hereabove instanced, we are called upon by every motive of self political emancipation to adopt all lawful and energetic means to secure an equally free exercise of the suffrage; and the majority of the people of the state are bound, in order to be consistent with their professions,to alter that Anti-Republican clause in our constitution which restricts us in the exercise of the franchise, and thereby render the state just and impartial in this essential feature of Democratic governments.
Resolved, That our brethren throughout the State be requested to commence immediately circulating petitions, praying the Legislature to extend to the colored citizens of New York the right of equal suffrage.
Resolved, That the delegates from each county be a committee to circulate petitions in their districts, and that they forward them to the Legislature at an early period of their session, or to the Central Committee by the first of January next.
Report of the undersigned, delegates from the City and County of New-York, to the Convention for the extension of Elective Franchise, held at Schenectady, September 18th, 1844, respectfully sheweth,
That in obedience to instructions received at an ajourned meeting of the citizens of the city and county of New-York, held September 16th, 1844, Hall, 101 Anthony street, and furnished with funds placed by that
meeting in the hands of the Chairman of the delegation, your delegates proceeded to Schenectady, and on the morning of the 18th of September went to the Baptist Church; in which, at 10 o'clock A.M. the Convention was opened without prayer, and having elected R. Francis, of Rochester, Chairman, it proceeded to business.
The morning session was occupied by the adoption of one Resolution (relating to the Franchise) and the discussion of a second Resolution of like character.
The afternoon session was opened without prayer; two letters, by a vote of the House, were read to the Convention: the first, from Rev. T. S. Wright, of New-York, urging the Convention, if it took sides with any party, to go for the Liberty Party; the second was from Rev. C. B. Ray, of New-York, who, calling himself as delegate elect (which was not true) urged the same course upon the Convention; both the letter writers deprecated any party movement by the Convention. Appended to the last letter was a Protest,* which, after some debate on the propriety of its being read, was referred to the Business Committee.
The Chairman of the Business Committee announced as next in order following:
Of the undersigned colored citizens of the city and county of New-York, assembled on the 16th of September, 1844, to send Delegates to the Convention of the citizens of New-York, to be held at Schenectady, September 18th, for the purpose of obtaining an extension of the elective franchise; respectfully Sheweth; that
Whereas, at the State Convention held at Rochester, August 22d, 1843, for the purpose of obtaining the same object, the following Resolutions were adopted;
"Resolved, That the Whig party, and the Democratic party, so called, the latter having positively refused, the other neglected to go to the extent of their ability to place those they had unrighteously proscribed upon a common level, politically, with other citizens, have both showed themselves unworthy the countenances and suffrages of the true friends of equal liberty, and the proscribed class themselves cannot vote with either without directly giving their own power and influence against themselves and their brethren universally.
"Resolved, That in going to the polls to vote, we will in no case whatever, vote with either of the pro-slavery parties of the land, since that would be, in our judgment, giving our suffrages against ourselves."
We do solemnly protest against the adoption of the above Resolutions by the Convention of 1843, and also against the adoption of any resolutions of kindred spirit, by the Convention about to assemble at Schenectady--
1st. Because the Convention of 1843 having assembled to take measures to obtain an extension of the elective franchise--a specific object--had no right to adopt resolutions extraneous, or detrimental to that object.
2d. Because the constituents of that Convention, being attached to no one political party, and therefore opposed to no other one political party, the Convention had no right, without previous notice to its constituents, to pass resolutions which, directly or indirectly, identify its constituents with any political party.
- We, the undersigned, feel called upon to enter our protest against the doings in any shape, of the Convention of last year, having been informed that a resolution was passed at a very small meeting in this city, last night, the view of moving the Convention to such a step.
Respectfully yours, truly,
(Signed) Theo. Sedgwick Wright,
Charles B. Ray
3d. Because the above resolutions place the success of the attempts to obtain an extension of the franchise on the success of a party which must ever comprise but a portion of the people, instead of relying upon the will and magnanimity of the whole people.
4th. Because the Convention, by assuming an attitude hostile to two political parties, thereby places itself, and those whom it assumed in this matter to represent, in the position of men asking from two political parties the power, to enable them to overthrow those parties--whilst the truth is, we seek the elective franchise, not for the purpose of upholding one party and prostrating another, but we ask it in good faith, as good citizens, feeling our capacity to enjoy that great privilege, and our determination to exercise it for the best interests of the whole people, without regard to sect or party.
Resolved, That the above Protest be signed by the Chairman and Secretary on behalf of this meeting, and that the delegates from this city be requested to present the above protest to the Convention with the request that it may be recorded upon the minutes of the Convention.
In behalf of the meeting, Jeremiah Powers, Chairman James M'Cune Smith, Secretary
The Protest having been read to the Convention, James M'Cune Smith, of the city of New-York, moved, "That the Protest be accepted, and recorded upon the minutes of the Convention." In support of this motion, he stated the facts in the case, to wit: "That the minutes of the Rochester Convention had not been read before any meeting of the citizens of New-York, until the evening of September 16th, 1844: that at the meetings held in that city, immediately after the adjournment of the Convention held at Rochester, the people of New-York city had, by a large majority, negatived a resolution of the same import with those objected to in the Protest; and that the earliest meeting at which the Rochester resolutions were read, had now protested against them: the protesters firmly believing that the said resolutions were not relevant to the franchise, took this means of recording their sentiments--sentiments which did not affect the inherent truth or falsehood of the Resolutions, but simply their relevancy."
Rev. H. H. Garnet, of Troy, opposed the Resolution to accept and record the protest: first, because the Resolutions protested against were, in themselves true; secondly, because, according to the statement of the mover, the Protest had been adopted at a small meeting; thirdly, because the Convention at Schenectady had no connection whatever with the Convention at Rochester, each Convention being independent and finishing its own work without appeal. He further said, that if the Protest had been signed by two individuals, he would have permitted it to be recorded.
Mr. Thompson, of Albany, advocated the reception and record of the Protests; because, the colored people seeing the franchise, as a boon, from the whole people, not from any party or portion of the people. He illustrated the absurdity of a contrary course, by the following fact which was not denied, viz: That the Convention at Rochester had passed a Resolution, instructing the General Committee to wait on the Governor, and request him to make favorable mention of the extension of the franchise to the people of color, in his annual message: that when the Central Committee waited on Governor Bouck, his Excellency stated his willingness to comply with their request, in case he found sufficient reason in the minutes of the Convention, which he requested the committee to bring to him. But the Chairman of the Central Committee (Rev. Mr. Garnet of Troy) could not be prevailed on to carry the minutes to the Governor, although frequently urged to do so. "And why?" said Mr. Thompson, "because those very minutes denounced the party to which Govenor Bouck belonged."
William P. Johnson, of New-York, opposed the motion, and hoped that the Protests would be crushed beneath the feet of the Convention, because it was an unrighteous proceeding; the meeting which adopted it, was an illegal meeting,
having been made an adjourned meeting at the end of the previous one, when everybody, almost, had gone away.
Ulysses B. Vidal, of New-York, urged the reception and record of the Protest; because New-York city having been misrepresented at the Rochester Convention, had undoubted right to record her sentiments in regard to the resolutions against which she protested, at this the very first and most fitting opportunity; he further (after eliciting from Mr. Johnson that his statement in regard to the adjournment was made upon hearsay) stated that he (Mr. V.) had been Chairman of the meeting in question, and that the adjournment had been legally made while the body of the meeting was yet in session: he further held, that this Convention having been appointed to be held at Schenectady by the Rochester Convention, was, therefore, the creation of the Rochester Convention, was in strict connection with it, and had a right to review its doings.
Mr. Moulton, of Troy, objected to the Resolution to accept the Protest; because this Convention had no right to review the proceedings of the previous Convention.
William P. Powell, 2 of New-York, advocated the reception of the Protest, on the ground that it would enable this Convention to regain the confidence lost and thrown away by the last, in the false step which it had taken. He dwelt upon the inconsistency of the colored people in identifying themselves with a political party to obtain the Elective Franchise in 1844, when they had already lost the Franchise, by a similar false movement in 1821.
J. M'Cune Smith, 3 of New-York, said that the debate had taken too wide a range. The question before the Convention was, shall we grant the request of the citizens of New-York, and record their Protest, or shall we not? If the Convention accepted the Protest, it did not adopt its sentiments, it simply granted to the people of New-York the right to be heard, granted their respectful request--their petition. If the Convention rejected the Protest, it rejected the request of the people of New-York, denied their right to be heard, violated the sacred right of petition and remonstrance.
Rev. H. H. Garnet, of Troy, moved that the Convention do adjourn, to meet at 7 o'clock, P.M. which was carried.
During this debate, the number of delegates present did not exceed twenty-five.
During the interval, at the invitation of Mr. Rich, of Troy, your delegates partook at a splendid Soiree, at which were present about one hundred ladies from that city.
The session having been opened with prayer, Rev. H. H. Garnet, of Troy, again opposed the reception of the Protest; he admitted the strength of the proposition that a rejection of the Protest would be a violation of the Right of Petition: but held that to be a false statement of the present case, and a statement which had been assumed by the cunning of the delegates from New-York, (he was here called to order and retracted the word cunning); he insisted that the Protest was not a fair issue and that it must be rejected.
J. M’Cune Smith, of New-York, said that the opposition having admitted the strength of the position occupied by those who urged the reception of the Protest, it was useless to debate the question further: it remained with the Convention to admit or reject the right of the citizens of New-York to record their sentiments respectfully expressed--"to admit or deny the right of petition."
The question being put, the Convention by a vote of 11 ayes and 38 noes, refused to accept or record the Protest.
Of the 49 votes cast, about 33 were from Schenectady and Troy, nearly all in the negative: thus these two places with a joint total colored population of less than 1,000 rejected the petition of New-York, containing 20,000 free colored people.
Immediately upon the announcement of this vote, U. B. Vidal, W. B. Powell, and James M'Cune Smith, of New-York, rose--the first two tendered their resignations as members of the Business Committee, and all tendered their resignations as members of the Convention, each giving his reasons for taking this step; the resignations were accepted by the Convention.
In taking the very decided step of withdrawing from the deliberations of the convention, your delegates respectfully submit, that they were fully
warranted by the facts in the case. Having been honored, fellow-citizens, with your appointment of us as your representatives in the State Convention, we accepted this distinguished trust with a full sense of its importance and responsibility; with a firm determination to present to the convention such matter as you in your judgment should think proper to trust to our care, to express what we firmly believed to be your sentiments, and to maintain for you that unyielding regard for your rights which has ever distinguished the people of the city of New-York.
Fellow citizens! you had entrusted us with a document, a Protest, respectfully worded, and accompanied with a respectful request that might be recorded upon the minutes of the Convention. This request was rejected by the Convention! Had it been a request to reject or adopt the sentiments of the Protest, it would have been another matter; for then, the Convention would have been urged to adopt the sentiments of a meeting of the citizens of New-York; and a refusal to adopt would have been an expression of a difference of opinion. But a refusal to accept and record the Protest, was a refusal to record the sentiments of that meeting. It was a denial of the right of the people of New-York, assembled at a public meeting, to record their sentiments upon the minutes of the Convention--sentiments which were expressed in regard to the only object which the Convention had in view. This right being denied by the Convention, your delegates felt that a primary and inalienable right of their constituents had been violated. They felt that their constituency was thereby outraged and insulted, and they could not any longer remain a part and party of the Convention which had, deliberately and wantonly, done this insult.
Your delegates had been told, openly, in Convention, before the Protest had been read, that it would be rejected--but they, incredulous that so great an insult had been already premeditated, performed their duty and presented the Protest--the result showed that the fate of the Protest from New-York had been determined by some combination of the delegates from other places before they had even heard the Protest read!
Other facts might be related to show the unfair means by which this deliberate, premeditated insult was consummated, but they are in themselves irrelevant to the issue which alone remains before the people of New-York.
Your delegates might have borne with indignity and insult in the hope that by remaining at the Convention they might yet, in their humble way, have contributed to the great object--the extension of the Elective Franchise, for the attainment of which they were sent to labor. But your delegates were now convinced that by the rejection of the Protest from New-York the Convention deprived itself of the only means by which it could continue to labor for the franchise. So long as the Resolutions adopted at Rochester, (against which the city of New-York had protested,) remains recorded as the sentiments of the colored people of the State of New-York, so long will it be utterly useless for the people of color to strive for the extension to them, on equal terms, of the Elective Franchise! Because the Rochester Convention's Resolutions identify the people of color with one political party, they promise the votes of people of color to that party, and that party only: they therefore change the ground of our effort, instead of asking for a right based upon the highest principles of general good, they ask for a means by which to help into power certain political aspirants who have made specious promises, thus confirming the charge which has been urged against the people of color, that their votes could be bought for been a price.
Believing, that, by a refusal to second your Protest, the Convention had not only poured insult upon you, but had also destroyed the only mode by which it could effect anything towards extension of the Franchise, your delegates knew that their opportunity for the successful labor had passed away, and they resigned their membership of the Convention.
Fellow-citizens! believing that you are unwilling that your sentiments in regard to the propriety of keeping aloof from political partisanship the great question of the Franchise, shall be misrepresented at one Convention, and that your right to be heard shall be denied by another Convention, believing that you are unwilling that you shall be handed over, bound hand and foot, to one political party, no matter which; believing you are unwilling that your ancient and unwavering determination to be heard in whatever concerns your welfare, shall at this late day be crushed and trampled upon--we
respectfully, but fearlessly submit our conduct in this matter, to your decision; assured, whatever the decision may be, that we will continue to labor along with you to obtain that priceless boon, that glorious privilege, that last, best RIGHT OF FREEMEN, the enjoyment of the Elective Franchise! A right, our only safe claim to which can be based upon our bringing to the altar of the Empire State, and of our common country, an independence in thought, an intelligence in opinion, a devotedness in patriotism, a sternness of integrity, which shall be above, or at least, equal to, the standard occupied by those of our fellow-citizens who now do vote.
With great respect,
Ulysses B. Vidal,
James M'Cune Smith,
Delegates from the city of N.Y. to the State Convention, held at Schenectady, Sept. 18th, 1844
National Anti-Slavery Standard, October 24, 1844.