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(1874) Congressman Richard Harvey Cain, “All We Ask Is Equal Laws, Equal Legislation And Equal Rights”

During an 1874 Congressional debate over the Civil Rights Bill then being considered, South Carolina Representative Richard Harvey Cain responds to attacks on the proposed legislation. His speech appears below.

Mr. Speaker, I feel called upon more particularly by the remarks of the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. VANCE] on civil rights to express my views. For a number of days this question has been discussed, and various have been the opinions expressed as to whether or not the pending bill should be passed in its present form or whether it should be modified to meet the objections entertained by a number of gentlemen whose duty it will be to give their votes for or against its passage. It has been assumed that to pass this bill in its present form Congress would manifest a tendency to override the Constitution of the country and violate the rights of the States.

Whether it be true or false is yet to be seen. I take it, so far as the constitutional question is concerned, if the colored people under the law, under the amendments to the Constitution, have become invested with all the rights of citizenship, then they carry with them all rights and immunities accruing to and belonging to a citizen of the United States. If four, or nearly five, million people have been lifted from the thralldom of slavery and made free; if the Government by its amendments to the Constitution has guaranteed to them all rights and immunities, as to other citizens, they must necessarily therefore carry along with them all privileges enjoyed by all other citizens of the Republic.

Sir, the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. VANCE] who spoke on the question stated some objections, to which I desire to address a few words of reply. He said it would enforce social rights, and therefore would be detrimental to the interests of both the whites and the blacks of the country. My conception of the effect of this bill, if it be passed into a law, will be simply to place the colored men of this country upon the same footing with every other