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(1850) John S. Rock, “Address to the Citizens of New Jersey”

Philadelphia Dentist John S. Rock would eventually become a medical doctor and attorney who in 1865 would become the first African American lawyer to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court.  In 1850, however, he was also an abolitionist and civil rights activist.  In that year 25 year old Rock gave a speech in neighboring New Jersey where he called upon the state’s white residents to treat the “disfranchised portion of the legal tax-payers” of the state fairly by extending to them the right to vote.  His oration appears below.

Citizens, in addressing you in favor of a disfranchised portion of the legal tax-payers of New Jersey, I feel, from the success our enterprise has already been crowned with, that intelligence, humanity and justice, may be styled characteristics of the citizens of this State

Knowing, then, that I am speaking to an intelligent and human people, who believe that noble sentiment set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created free and equal, etc. I take the liberty of speaking freely to you, being one of the disfranchised, and I do not believe your hearts are so callous as not to listen to the voice of the oppressed.

Although the above Declaration declares that all men are created free and equal, those noble words, in their common acceptation, do not and cannot apply to the disfranchised people I am now speaking of, because, indirectly, you deny the disfranchised are men. You say that all men are created free and equal and at the same time, you deny that equality, which is nothing more nor less than denying our manhood. If we are not free and equal, (according to the Declaration of Independence), we are not men, because all men are created free and equal.

We confess there is something about this we never could understand. We are denied our rights as men, at the same time are taxed in common with yourselves, and obliged to support the government in her denunciations. If we are not men, why are we dealt with as such when we do not pay our taxes, or when