The Congressional Globe [excerpts]

In these excerpts from a Senate debate over regulations for a District of Columbia street railroad, many typical arguments for and against public segregation are aired in language that also reveals attitudes towards race and equality as the Civil War continued.


Mr. MORRILL. I move that the Senate proceed to the consideration of the unfinished business of yesterday. The motion was agreed to; and the Senate, as in Committee of the Whole, resumed the consideration of the bill (S. No. 54) to incorporate the Metropolitan Railroad Company in the District of Columbia, the pending question being on the amendment of Mr. SUMNER to add at the end of section fourteen the following proviso: Provided, That there shall be no regulation excluding any person front any car on account of color.


I conclude, Mr. President, by saying that I trust upon reflection the honorable member from Massachusetts will see that there is no necessity for his amendment. I think a majority if not all the members of the Senate, with the exception of the honorable member from Delaware, have come to the conclusion that if you pass the bill without the amendment, these people will have just as much right to go into the cars as they will have if the amendment be adopted. Besides, I think it invites a certain class or certain parties to bring about difficulties which the peace of society requires should be avoided, if possible. The learned surgeon who holds a commission in the Army is the only one I have heard of who has complained of the supposed misconduct of the present railroad company. He got upon the cars, and his ejection gave rise to the former discussion. He went into the Supreme Court, and he gave rise to some inquiry in this body whether the Supreme Court had directed him to be turned out. He seems anxious to be a martyr. Now provide by law, in express terms, that these people shall ride in these cars, giving them a right, a positive right which you do not give to the white man, and there may be a good many Dr. Augustas, and we may have trouble. And what is it all for? It is a mere matter of taste on the part of these black people or white people. I should have no objection to ride in a car with them, provided they were clean; and I have just as much objection to sitting alongside of a dirty white man as to sitting alongside of a dirty black man. But we know, and I think if honorable members will consult their own homes they will find, that there is, at least among the ladies from the North who are from time to time in the city and are in the habit of using the cars, just as great a repugnance to traveling in the cars with that description of people as is to be found in any other class of our community. We of the South, because the institution of slavery was there, have become accustomed to them. I do not speak of myself, for I have no slaves, and I never had any except for a few moments. In the South they are a part of our fireside. They know how to behave themselves. They are treated kindly as a general rule, very kindly; fed as well as their masters, clothed as well for all the purposes for which clothing is really needed. They do not take their seats at the table; they never think of such a thing; yet they have been as happy as the day is long.


Mr. SAULSBURY. Mr. President, the Senator from Maryland has made the argument which I supposed he would make; and notwithstanding the high source from which that argument emanates, I see nothing in it to change the view I expressed yesterday, and nothing, in fact, to justify any extended reply.

The question at issue is not whether the railroad company in Washington is bound to supply all proper facilities for travel to all classes of persons, because I admit that; but the question is, doing that and providing all necessary accommodations fur the transmission of negroes upon their railroad, are they bound in law to allow the negroes to select any car they choose in which to ride? Are the rights and the privileges of the company to be subject to the overruling power of every miserable straggler of a free negro who may choose to visit this city? Why, sir, such a doctrine as that was never advanced until very recent days. In all the States where slavery existed, and in many where it did not exist, until these glorious days the blessings of which we arc now enjoying arose, it was universally conceded that railroad companies, steamboat proprietors, coach lines, had the right to make this regulation. The very railroad between the city of Washington and New York makes its own regulations in the transmission of white persons with reference to the class of cars in which they shall ride, and no complaint is made. Suppose the honorable Senator from Maryland wishes to go from Washington to Philadelphia, and he presumes to say that he will ride in a car which goes to New York, he is met by some person connected with the cars, possibly by a soldier with a bayonet, and he is pointed to the Philadelphia cars, and he is required to ride in them.

But the Senator from Maryland seems to think-at least, I infer so from his remarks-that an action for damages would accrue to any negro who should be excluded from any particular car in which he chooses to ride, or to a white man who, choosing to ride in a negro car should be excluded therefrom. What would be the question for a jury to try in such a case as that if an action for damages were brought? Whether or not sufficient accommodation had been provided for the transmission of the passenger over the railway. That would be the only question involved in the case. Claiming damages, he must show wrong and injury done of a substantial character by not having sufficient facility for travel over the railway. Then suppose the company were to show by witnesses at the bar of the court that there was a car ready for the accommodation of the white man, but that he chose to ride among negroes, is there a jury in the United States-could there be one summoned in the United States-that would say that man had sustained loss and damage?

The company have the right to make regulations to prevent persons laboring under disease from riding in their railroad cars. I suppose that will not be denied. Why is that? Because it might be dangerous to other passengers. They may, as I apprehend, make regulations for the exclusion from certain cars of persons whose situation at the time is not such as to render them proper and fit associates for other persons in the cars; and how is that fact to be ascertained? By the judgment of those who ride upon the cars. Does any one believe that to allow negroes to ride upon the city cars would be pleasant to any very considerable portion of the ladies and gentlemen of the capital? Does any one believe that by allowing them to ride upon the cars the interests of the company would not be seriously affected? If the interests of the company would be seriously affected by allowing them to ride in the cars with white people, whether that arises from what some may consider prejudice or whether it arises from what I believe to be reason and good sense and good taste on the part of the white people, would not that be a sufficient justification, upon a trial between a negro and the company, to justify the company in placing them in other cars, provided those other cars were sufficient for their accommodation?


Mr. CARLILE. I wish to ask the Senator from Massachusetts if, in any act incorporating a railroad company in his State, any provision is inserted defining the character of the people who are to ride in the cars?

Mr. SUMNER. That whole question, after much discussion in Massachusetts, has been settled by legislation, and the rights of every colored person are placed on an equality with those of white persons. They have the same right with white persons to ride in every public conveyance in the Commonwealth. It was done by positive legislation twenty-one years ago.

Mr. CARLILE. I ought not, perhaps, to have acknowledged my ignorance on that point, for I could easily have ascertained the fact for myself. But what is the number of colored people in the State of Massachusetts?

Mr. WILSON. Between eight and nine thousand.

Mr. CARLILE. I lay down as a general rule observed by all States in the incorporation of companies of this sort, to leave to the companies themselves the making and establishing of certain rules and regulations for their own government. It is a fact known to every gentleman who has passed over any railroad in the United States that white men are excluded from certain cars attached to almost every train. When you leave this city, unless you have a lady with you you are turned away from the car which is reserved for ladies and their escorts. These rules and regulations are made by the companies, and it is to be presumed that they will be governed by their interest in the making and in the enforcement of them. So far as I am advised in the States with the legislation of which on this subject I am familiar, it is supposed that the interest of these corporations will govern them. They are said by Lord Coke to have no souls, to be governed exclusively by their interest; and if a drunkard, a man intoxicated is excluded from a car, or if a person is excluded from a car because he is of a different color from ourselves, it is to be presumed that that exclusion is caused because it is the interest of the company thus to exclude the individual. I have once or twice in my life been in the great city of New York. I am not at all familiar with their statutes; but I have seen in that city precisely what I see every day in this city, cars having printed upon them the words, "colored persons admitted in this car." I presume that any railroad company in this city would have as good a right to print upon its ear, "white persons are excluded from this car," as they have to print "colored persons are excluded from this car," and I have no doubt that they would do so if they should find it to be their interest to do so.


Mr. MORRILL. As the Senate is to divide on this question, and the bill comes from a committee of which I am a member, and I had something to do with presenting it to the Senate, I feel called upon to say a few words.

The proposition of the Senator from Massachusetts has borrowed OR importance from the discussion which I am sure it had not in the beginning. I do not consider that it adds to the authority or the legal force of the bill. The bill is just as strong to protect the rights of all persons who are to be transported over this road in the contemplation of the bill without the amendment as with it. So far as the legal rights of the persons who are to be accommodated by this road are concerned it adds nothing.

The Committee on the District of Columbia on former occasions had this identical subject before them, and considered it somewhat at large; and the honorable Senator from West Virginia [Mr. WILLEY] made a report upon it in which the opinion-I believe the unanimous opinion-of the committee was stated; and that was, that as a matter of law, under the former charter and under this one, which is a transcript of it, there is no doubt at all as to what the law is; that both roads become common carriers; that it is simply a question of passengers; that any man who is a passenger has a right to go upon the road, and, paying his fare, they have no right to discriminate against him either on account of his color, or the length of his nose, or the cut of his hair. As a question of public decency they would have a right to say whether an infected man, or an intoxicated man, or it man who, by his manners or condition had offended against public decency should travel on the road or not. But upon no other conceivable ground whatever would this company have a right to say that a man demeaning himself properly, and paying his fare, should not have a right to a seat in the cars. It is therefore clear and well settled both as a matter of law and as a matter of right.

Now, as to the question of remedy, does the amendment change it? Does it add to it in the least? I do not see that it does. What is the remedy now? It is the ordinary remedy. The remedy of the colored person is precisely the remedy of any other person who is denied the privileges of the cars. Suppose a man insists upon getting on one of these cars with a market-basket in his hand, which of itself is offensive.

Mr. SUMNER. They do it every day.

Mr. MORRILL. That is true; they do; but the Senator perhaps knows that they are positively excluded from some of the cars, and, I insist upon it, are very properly excluded. It is an offense against public decency that they should do it in the manner I have observed it. I find, however, that the persons who make such loud complaints against persons of color entering the cars are perfectly quiet when neighbors to these persons who as to personal cleanliness are offensive, and who are accompanied in this way.

I repeat, therefore, that it is not a question of remedy, because the same remedy is open to the colored person that is open to any other; and what is that? A resort to the law; a resort to the courts of law. It so happens that the courts of law in this District are open, and under the legislation of this and the former Congress they are accessible to this class of persons. There is no presumption against these persons in law anywhere in this District. They are allowed their oaths. I suggest therefore to the honorable Senator from Massachusetts that the law is clear, the right is unquestionable, and the remedy is ample. That was my opinion; and that was the reason why this bill was reported without this provision. Standing thus, I thought it wiser that this question, which is a collateral question, and one that must be settled in some other way, outside of Congress, whenever it is settled, should not be mooted on this bill.


Mr. MORRILL. I do not mean to say that the Senator reflected on the motives of others; but he arraigns this question as a matter of taste, and the precise matter of taste which is obnoxious to him and which he animadverts upon is that we will insist upon it that colored persons shall be permitted to ride in the cars with white people in this city. I mean nothing personal in what I am about to say; but I suppose I can state a case that will not be offensive to the taste of the Senator from Delaware. It would not be offensive as a matter of taste to the Senator from. Delaware and the class of persons of whom he is the representative in this Chamber to ride with a colored person in the best carriage in town, provided that colored person wore on his person the badge of bondage. You may put as many colored men and women as you please in the cars with the persons who make this argument, and if you will put upon them the badge of bondage and servitude, they will not be offended at it. It is in good taste to do that! Nay, sir, you may put a colored man or woman on the very seat by the side of the advocates of this doctrine of taste, and they will not only not be offended at it, but will be proud of it, so long as the badge of servitude and bondage is apparent. Why, sir, as I came up town the other day, I saw an exceedingly well-dressed colored man riding in the very seat of honor, while the white man sat where the driver ordinarily does and held the reins and the whip, and seemed proud that lie held the "ribbons."

I might say to the honorable Senator that, as a question of taste, I feel exceedingly offended at this practice. There would be just as much sense in my saying that, as there would be in arraigning who advocate this bill for a want of good taste in saying that, as regards the question of abstract right, a colored man, being a decent man, not being infected with any contagious disease nor a drunkard, may ride in the public conveyances in this city.

The Senator assures us that this class of legislation tends to a fatal equality of the races, social and political, and warns the Senate that in our vain attempts to free and elevate four million negroes, we are doing all we can to enslave and degrade thirty million white people-the superior race. The logic of this argument or rather this assumption is twofold: that all persons who ride in the same public conveyance are thereby necessarily put upon terms of social and political equality, and that the elevation or emancipation of the inferior tends to the degradation of the superior race. The bare statement of the first proposition is its refutation.

All classes and conditions of persons and of every rank and degree meet in the public streets, in hotels, railway cars, steamboats, and other public conveyances and places, and no question ever arises of social or political equality from such fact. On this reasoning, why, tell me, is not the social condition of master and slave complete and equal? They ride together in the same public and private conveyance often, live together in the same house, and associate, it cannot be doubted, in many ways tending, one would think, to establish the relation of social equality; and yet it is said that social isolation between them is quite entire. Sir, it is not a question of social or political equality, or the fear of it, that offends the Senator and those of whom he speaks; it is riot a real apprehension that the negroes will be made equal in these respects. It is a question of freedom, which puts the slave out of the power of the master and beyond his control, that fills this Chamber with the lamentations of the Senator when questions of this sort arise here.

The honorable Senator said yesterday that this whole question of the regulation of the intercourse or relations between the races had better be left to the gentlemanly instincts of the superior race and the principles of Christianity. He scouted the idea of legislative regulation. Let us look at that idea for a moment. Suppose I accept the proposition and leave this question to the influences of that Christianity to which he appeals. Assuming now that the Senator is desirous to learn the teachings of Christianity in relation to his cherished "institution," and willing to accept its dealings with it in the past as a rule of conduct for himself and those for whom he speaks in the present and for the future, let us see what is the record of that Christianity upon the subject. What has been the course of Christianity on this subject for the last three or four centuries-nay, sir, since the light of its doctrines first dawned upon the civilized nations of the earth? Has it not been abolition? Is not that the doctrine it taught?


About this Document

  • Source: The Congressional Globe
  • Author: Congress of the United States of America
  • Published: Washington, DC
  • Citation: Pages 1156-1161
  • Date: March 17, 1864