Legacy Outrage!

The outcry against the amendment rose immediately and loudly from numerous political quarters. African American politicians and newspaper editors fully condemned the amendment. An editorial in the African American newspaper The Star of Zion, most likely written by editor, J.W. Smith, pointed to the Democratic party’s hypocrisy in proposing the amendment. After the amendment’s passage, he denounced it as unconstitutional. On January 26, 1899, U.S. House Representative George White, predicted the devastating effects of disfranchisement and implored Congress to protect the rights of African American citizens at home as it fought for “the poor people in Cuba.” When the amendment passed, he firmly denounced it in the U.S. House. On January 29, 1901 he cited specific incidences of fraud during the 1900 election, and noted African Americans’ economic successes and rightful roles as citizens. White politicians decried the amendment’s unconstitutionality, particularly its violation of the 14th and 15th amendments and its treatment of poor, illiterate whites. Jeter S. Pritchard, a U.S. Senator and Republican, criticized the amendment for its unreasonable literacy requirements and poll tax. He argued that the amendment was unnecessary because “negro domination” was not a threat in North Carolina. Other white politicians agreed. U.S. Senator Marion Butler, a Populist, argued that the amendment would disfranchise many respectable white and black men, and yet empower a “dangerous” class of African Americans. “The trifling town negro,” Butler asserted, “who walks the street of our towns with eye glasses and with hat cocked on the side of his head, who talks loud and takes up all of the sidewalk, would be left with full power to vote.” In a letter to the Caucasian dated February 15, 1900, T.E. Owen criticized the amendment on similar grounds for disfranchising “the best white men in North Carolina” while empowering the “educated town negro.” Part of Jeter Pritchard’s speech includes some angry dialogue with another senator. How would you characterize the terms of their disagreements?