“The Political Situation,” Annual Message and Accompanying Documents of the Governor of Virginia to the General Assembly (December 2, 1874)

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In this excerpt from a communication from Governor James L. Kemper to the General Assembly, delivered December 2, 1874, he rails against Reconstruction and foments racist explanations for the immiserated situation of recently emancipated African Americans.


The Political Situation.

Recent events create the hope that the government of the Union is to be brought back to the constitution, its ancient landmarks and traditions recovered and respected, and fraternal relations revived throughout the country. They cheer the oppressed and despondent southern people with the promise that the burthens which have so long borne them down are to be lifted off. For nearly ten years, the existence or constant apprehension of military or other interference or repression, from without, has palsied the just self-government of this people; has deranged their labor systems, enfeebled their production, hindered the revival of trade and commercial enterprise, prevented the influx of immigration and capital, and subjected whole communities to the rule of the unpitying stranger, who has wasted the fruits of their labor and eaten up their substance. It may be safely affirmed that the period of reconstruction has visited upon the southern states greater material losses and injuries than resulted from the preceding four years of war. The most auspicious day, for the honor and well-being of the whole country, will be that in which the great export-producing states are restored to peace and productive energy, by being restored to their constitutional rights and relations.

But our complete deliverance depends in no small measure upon the wisdom with which ourselves shall utilize past lessons and coming opportunities. It is to be wrought out by the moral power of our fidelity to every constitutional trust. If our present hopes be fulfilled, their very fulfilment confronts us with new exigencies to be well understood and manfully met. The new organic order, settled by the recent amendments of the Federal constitution, will stand unaltered; and the great domestic problem they impose on us will be left to be worked out by our unassisted strength and at our own hazard. We may rest assured of success as soon as the repeal or judicial annulment of all enforcement laws shall peacefully relieve us from the harassment and apprehension of military and other coercion from without, and from the intermeddling of mere political adventurers

— page 29 —

within. As soon as let alone and left to adjust their own relations, the races will be brought clearly to understand their respective destinies, and mutual co-operation and good will will enlist them in working out a common welfare.

Looking to the preponderant numbers of the white race; to their constantly augmenting relative strength; to their great superiority in experience, education and enlightenment; to the truth that intelligence is a main support of free institutions, we cannot doubt that the better qualified and superior portion of the people can, will and ought to control and administer the domestic governments. Henceforth, let it be understood of all, that the political equality of the races is settled, and the social equality of the races is a settled impossibility. Let it be understood of all, that any organized attempt on the part of the weaker and relatively diminishing race to dominate the domestic governments, is the wildest chimera of political insanity. Let each race settle down in final resignation to the lot to which they logic of events has inexorably consigned it. When the pernicious intermeddling which has irritated the relations of the races shall cease, the weaker race will look with growing confidence to us for the protection of their rights; and their fidelity and services in the trying periods of the past, their dependence and comparative helplessness, the demands of humanity and our own well-being, all impel us to accord them justice and beneficence with a generous hand. The members of that race are engaged in an unequal struggle with poverty and the perilous responsibilities of a sudden freedom. Their earnings may suffice to secure a livelihood for themselves, but they who were once valuable laborers and producers are now contributing no increase to the aggregate wealth. A wise statesmanship will incite them by kindness, will rescue them from unthrift and extravagance, encourage them to increase their possessions and comforts by the practice of self-denial, diligence and probity, will enlarge their industries, consult their wants, cultivate their minds, and draw out their best capacities, so that their now inert force shall be made an active instrumentality, and wielded as a great productive power in augmenting the common wealth and prosperity.

The colored man is on trial before the eyes of the world. It is mainly for himself to prove his race worthy of its new political relations.

In dealing with these questions, we are told that we cannot afford to do wrong. We are told it is not safe to make a single mistake.

— page 30 —

Let us regret the teachings of a policy so ignoble and narrow. Standing on a far higher political and moral level, let us do what we know to be right, for the sake of the right, yielding to no sickly ephemeral prejudice at home, and moved neither by menaces nor by blandishments from without.

James L. Kemper.

APA Citation:
Kemper, James. “The Political Situation,” Annual Message and Accompanying Documents of the Governor of Virginia to the General Assembly (December 2, 1874). (2021, March 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Kemper, James. "“The Political Situation,” Annual Message and Accompanying Documents of the Governor of Virginia to the General Assembly (December 2, 1874)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (26 Mar. 2021). Web. 24 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, April 05
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