A Northern General’s View of Negro Suffrage
As the Republican party completed its thorough bludgeoning of the South in early 1865, the realization of postwar politics and establishing Republican hegemony over the country for a long period became a primary consideration. With the South eventually returning to national politics, the question of Negro suffrage and ensuring they would always vote Republican became paramount. But there were also those in the Republican party who favored separation of the races, like Major-General Jacob D. Cox, who led a division under Sherman at Atlanta, and under Schofield at Fort Fisher – the latter where he observed Northern white and black troops interacting.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
A Northern General’s View of Negro Suffrage
“Jacob D. Cox entered the Reconstruction debate in his role as the Republican candidate for the governor of Ohio. On the surface, the question of federal policy toward the freedmen was of little relevance to the Ohio gubernatorial campaign, since that office had no jurisdiction over the question.
However, in 1865 no politician, at whatever level he operated, could ignore Reconstruction. Federal officeholders would use the State campaigns of 1865 to gauge public opinion on this issue. Moreover, the Ohio Unionist party reflected the divisions of the national party over the question of Negro suffrage; antislavery men from the Western Reserve advocated it, southern Ohio Unionists opposed it, and the majority of the party’s 1865 convention delegates wished to take no immediate position.
Although the party platform ignored the question, many members, especially the anti-slavery Republicans, insisted that Cox define his position concerning the status of the freedmen.
Cox announced his plan reluctantly . . . [and] Disagreeing with the call for immediate Negro suffrage coming from Western Reserve Republicans, the candidate claimed that declarations by State parties and nominees would be premature and would make more difficult President [Andrew] Johnson’s task.
Decisive pressure came, however, from the seat of Ohio antislavery sentiment and Cox’s alma mater, Oberlin College. [Cox’s reply was the eight-page] Oberlin Letter — an antislavery call for the separation of blacks and whites. Knowing that his more radical friends would accuse him of racism, Cox began by asserting his commitment to certain principles held by antislavery men.
“The public faith is pledged to every person of color in the rebel states, to secure to them and to their posterity forever, a complete and veritable freedom. The system of slavery must be abolished and prohibited by paramount and irreversible law. Throughout the rebel states there must be, in the words of Webster “impressed upon the soil itself an inability to bear up any but free men.” The systems of the states must be truly republican.”
To Cox, however, “the effect of the war has not been simply to “embitter” their [the two races] relations, but to develop a rooted antagonism which makes their permanent fusion into one political community an absolute impossibility.” The granting of equal political rights to freedmen would only hasten the onset of a race war.
This would occur, Cox argued, because the unique historical position of black Americans, coupled with their distinct physical appearance, made amalgamation impossible. Southern whites, unwilling to operate on a basis of equality with blacks, would combine to keep them powerless, either by law . . . or through violence. Recognizing the incongruity between the democratic promise of America and his restricted position, the black man would resist. In the ensuing contest, he could not win.
Cox’s contact with white Northern soldiers convinced him that white troops would side with white Southerners and the Northern population would acquiesce in the eventual extinction of the colored minority. America’s republican institutions had met in Southern racial antagonism an insurmountable obstacle.
Claiming a commitment to the freedom and prosperity of the freedmen, but believing racial divisions incurable, Cox advocated separation.”
(The Cox Plan of Reconstruction: A Case Study in Ideology and Race Relations. Wilbert H. Ahern, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, John T. Hubbell, editor, Kent State University Press, Vol. XVI, No. IV, December 1970, excerpts pp. 294-296)