New York, 1860: The White Man’s View of Black Voting Rights

In the era of Abraham Lincoln, Blacks in New York were hardly more advanced in rights than were their brethren in the South.  About 80 percent of Blacks could not vote because of a law which said that Blacks must own property worth $250. For years, Blacks campaigned to remove this qualification from the state constitution, and in the election of 1860 the people were going to have a chance to vote on an amendment allowing equal voting rights for Blacks.

Passage was unlikely because even abolitionists did not favor granting political rights to the Black man. (Women of New York would not gain the right to vote until 1917.) The press continued to set the tone for the average white New Yorker:

Brooklyn Standard, on September 22, 1860, said: “Unadulterated Black Republicanism is bad enough, but political amalgamation with black men is worse.” “What occasion is there of our adding to voters in this State 10,000 idle, thieving, ignorant negroes? Let the property qualification stand—let those who are thrifty and industrious vote; but let us have not extension of it to the degraded blacks who infest most of our northern cities.”

• The Brooklyn City News charged that “there is a natural inferiority on the part of the black race…” It further warned the readers that the proposed legislation unreasonably asked whites “to deposit your vote in the ballot box, cheek by jowl with a large ‘buck nigger’.”

• The City News spoke for the white man: “Remember, conservative men of New York, that you will be called upon…to vote whether ten or fifteen thousand sooty negroes shall be raised to a political level with yourselves in this State.”

• The New York Tribune advocated separation in an editorial titled “What We Shall Do with the Negro.” “The ignorant and servile race,” it said, “will not and cannot be emancipated and raised to the enjoyment of equal civil rights with the dominant and intelligent race; they will be driven out.”

[from the book Hidden History of New York: A Guide for Black Folks]

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