"William McKinley delivering his last add...


WilliamMcKinleysDeathMask (Photo credit: Wikipedia)






“Not as Suppliants do we Present Our Claims,

but as American Citizens.”

The Colored People of Boston and vicinity, through the Colored National League, at a mass meeting held in the Charles Street Church, Tuesday evening, October 3d, 1899, addressed an Open Letter to President McKinley.

The reading of the letter by Mr. Archibald H. Grimke, Chairman of the Committee, was listened to with marked attention and interest, and at the conclusion of its reading the letter was adopted by the meeting with significant unanimity.

The letter was forwarded to President McKinley, signed by the officers of the meeting and others.

Boston, Mass., October 3, 1899.

Hon. William McKinley,

President of the United States,

Sir: —

…It was the same thing with that terrible ebullition of the mob spirit at Phoenix, S. C, when black men were hunted and murdered, and white men shot and driven out of that place by a set of white savages, who cared not for the Constitution and the laws of the United States any more than they do for the constitution and the laws of an empire dead and buried a thousand years. We looked in vain for some word or some act from you. Neither word nor act of sympathy for the victims was forthcoming, or of detestation of an outrage so mad and barbarous as to evoke even from such an extreme Southern organ as is the News and Courier, of Charleston, S. C, hot and stern condemnation. Hoping against hope, we waited for your annual message to Congress in December last, knowing that the Constitution imposed upon you a duty to give, from time to time, to that body information of the state of the Union. That, at least, we said, the President will surely do; he will communicate officially the facts relative to the tragic, the appalling events, which had just occurred in the Carolinas to the Congress of the United States. But not one word did your message contain on this subject, although it discussed all sorts and conditions of subjects, from the so-called war for humanity against Spain to the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the national capital in 1900. Nothing escaped your eye, at home or abroad, nothing except the subversion of the Constitution and laws of the Union in the Southern States, and the flagrant and monstrous crimes perpetrated upon a weak and submissive race in defiance of your authority, or in virtual connivance therewith. Yes, sir, we repeat, or in virtual connivance therewith.

And, when you made your Southern tour a little later, and we saw how cunningly you catered to Southern race prejudice and proscription; how you, the one single public man and magistrate of the country, who, by virtue of your exalted office, ought under no circumstances to recognize caste distinctions and discriminations among your fellow-citizens, received white men at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., and black men afterward in a negro church ; how you preached patience, industry moderation to your long-suffering black fellow-citizens, and patriotism, jingoism and imperialism to your white ones ; when we saw all these things, scales of illusion in respect to your object fell from our eyes. We felt that the President of the United States, in order to win the support of the South to his policy of “criminal aggression” in the far East, was ready and willing to shut his eyes, ears and lips to the “criminal aggression” of that section against the Constitution and the laws of the land, wherein they guarantee civil rights and citizenship to the negro, whose ultimate reduction to a condition of fixed and abject serfdom is the plain purpose of the Southern people and their laws.

A 1899 cover of Judge magazine showing a carto...

A 1899 cover of Judge magazine showing a cartoon of U.S. President William McKinley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When, several months subsequently, you returned to Georgia, the mob spirit, as if to evince its supreme contempt for your presence and the federal executive authority which you represent, boldly broke into a prison shed, where were confined helpless negro prisoners on a charge of incendiarism, and brutally murdered five of them. These men were American citizens, entitled to the rights of American citizens, protection and trial by due process of law. They were, in the eye of the law, innocent until convicted by a jury of their peers. Had they been in legal custody in Russia or Spain or Turkey they had not been slaughtered by a mob under like circumstances; for the Russian military power, or the Spanish or the Turkish, would have guarded those men in their helpless and defenceless condition from the fury of the populace who were seeking their blood. Sir, they were men; they were your brothers; they were God’s children, for whom Jesus lived and died. They ought to have been sacred charges in the hands of any civilized or semi-civilized State and people. But almost in your hearing, before your eyes (and you the chief magistrate of a country loudly boastful of its freedom, Christianity and civilization), they were atrociously murdered. Did you speak? did you open your lips to express horror of the awful crime and stern condemnation of the incredible villainy and complicity of the constituted authorities of Georgia in the commission of this monstrous outrage, which out- barbarized barbarism and stained through and through with indelible infamy before the world your country’s justice, honor and humanity?

Still later, considering the age, the circumstances and the nation in which the deed was done, Georgia committed a crime unmatched for moral depravity and sheer atrocity during the century. A negro, charged with murder and criminal assault, the first charge he is reported by the newspapers to have admitted, and the second to have denied, was taken one quiet Sunday morning from his captors, and burned to death with indescribable and hellish cruelty in the presence of cheering thousands of the so-called best people of Georgia, men, women and” children, who had gone forth on the Christian Sabbath to the burning of a human being as to a country festival and holiday of innocent enjoyment and amusement. The downright ferocity and frightful savagery of that American mob at Newnan outdoes the holiday humor and thirst for blood of the tiger-like populace of Pagan Rome, gathered to witness Christian martyrs thrown to lions in their roaring arenas. The death of Hose was quickly followed by that of the negro preacher, Strickland, guiltless of crime, under circumstances and with a brutality of wickedness almost matching in horror and enormity the torture and murder of the first; and this last was succeeded by a third victim, who was literally lashed to death by the wild, beast-like spirit of a Georgia mob, for daring merely to utter his abhorrence of the Palmetto iniquity and slaughter of helpless prisoners.

Did you speak? Did you utter one word of reprobation, of righteous indignation, either as magistrate or as man? Did you break the shameful silence of shameful months with so much as a whisper of a whisper against the deep damnation of such defiance of all law, human and divine; such revulsion of men into beasts, and relapses of communities into barbarism in the very center of the republic, and amid the sanctuary of the temple of American liberty itself? You did not, sir, but your Attorney-General did, and he only to throw out to the public, to your meek and long-suffering colored fellow-citizens, the cold and cautious legal opinion that the case of Hose has no federal aspect! Mr. President, has it any moral or human aspect, seeing that Hose was a member of the negro race, whom your Supreme Court once declared has no rights in America which white men are bound to respect? Is this infamous dictum of that tribunal still the supreme law of the land? We ask you, sir, since recent events in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia and Louisiana, as well as in Georgia and the Carolinas, indeed throughout the South, and your own persistent silence, and the persistent silence of every member of your Cabinet on the subject of the wrongs of that race in those States, would appear together to imply as much.

Had, eighteen months ago, the Cuban revolution to throw off the yoke of Spain, or the attempt of Spain to subdue the Cuban rebellion, any federal aspect? We believe that you and the Congress of the United States thought that they had, and therefore used, finally, the armed force of the nation to expel Spain from that island. Why? Was it because “the people of the Island of Cuba are, and of right ought to be free and independent?” You and the Congress said as much, and may we fervently pray, sir, in passing, that the freedom and independence of that brave people shall not much longer be denied them by our government?- But to resume, there was another consideration which, in your judgment, gave to the Cuban question a federal aspect, which provoked at last the armed interposition of our government in the affairs of that island, and this was “the chronic condition of disturbance in Cuba so injurious and menacing to our interests and tranquillity, as well as shocking to our sentiments of humanity.” Wherefore you presently fulfilled “a duty to humanity by ending a situation, the indefinite prolongation of which had become insufferable.”

Mr. President, had that “chronic condition of disturbance in Cuba so injurious and menacing to our interests and tranquillity as well as shocking to our sentiments of humanity,” which you wished to terminate and did terminate, a federal aspect, while that not less “chronic condition of disturbance” in the South, which is a thousand times more “injurious and menacing to our interests and tranquillity,” as well as far more “shocking to our sentiments of humanity,” or ought to be, none whatever? Is it better to be Cuban revolutionists fighting for Cuban independence than American citizens striving to do their simple duty at home? Or is it better only in case those American citizens doing their simple duty at home happen to be negroes residing in the Southern States?

Are crying national transgressions and injustices more “injurious and menacing” to the Republic, as well as “shocking to its sentiments of humanity,” when committed by a foreign state, in foreign territory, against a foreign people, than when they are committed by a portion of our own people against a portion of our own people at home.’ There were those of our citizens who did not think that the Cuban question possessed any federal aspect, while there were others who thought otherwise; and these, having the will and the power, eventually found a way to suppress a menacing danger to the country and a wrong against humanity at the same time. Where there is a will among constitutional lawyers and rulers, Mr. President, there is ever a way; but where there is no will, there is no way. Shall it be said that the federal government, with arms of Briareus, reaching to the utmost limits of the habitable globe for the protection of its citizens, for the liberation of alien islanders and the subjugation of others, is powerless to guarantee to certain of its citizens at home their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, because those citizens happen to be negroes residing in the Southern section of our country? Do the colored people of the United States deserve equal consideration with the Cuban people at the hands of your administration, and shall they, though late, receive it? If, sir, you have the disposition, as we know that you have the power, we are confident that you will be able to find a constitutional way to reach us in our extremity, and our enemies also, who are likewise enemies to great public interests and national tranquility.

I. D. BARNETT, President.

EDWARD E. BROWN, Vice-President.

EDWARD H. WEST, Secretary.