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Alfred Moore Waddell's Address to the Colored People
Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers
An Address Delivered to the Colored People,
By Their Request, at the Wilmington Theatre.
July 26th, 1865, by Alfred Moore Waddell
This rare document is important to an understanding of postwar
North Carolina and the American South, as a prominent attorney
and leader in Wilmington, North Carolina addresses the
The high regard the former slaves had for Waddell was apparent
as the leadership of the local freedmen sought his advice on the
new arrangement of social and legal status for black residents,
and the help and cooperation of the white community in this
city which was then under military occupation and martial law.
His address shows no animosity toward the freedmen and he
wishes the former slaves Godspeed in their new status as free men, though cautions them on the solemn duties and responsibilities
that this entailed.
Most importantly, he warned them of the adventurers from the
North who courted their favor for political purposes and advised
them to trust those who they had lived with all their lives, and who would benefit from good relations with the black race in their midst.
This address, which is published at the request of a few friends, was delivered on the 26th of July, while the feelings and prejudices of persons, arising out of the war, had abated but little of their intensity. By delivering it I certainly could not render myself obnoxious to the charge of seeking popularity. Publishing it will not render me more so. If it is simple in ideas and language, the audience before whom it was delivered will furnish any apology which may be due on that score.
Alfred Moore Waddell,
September 6th, 1865.
Mr. WADDELL said:
“I am here, my friends, at your request, to speak freely with you, to make known to you exactly your situation as members of the community, and to give you my best advice in regard to your new duties and responsibilities.
I have not come to flatter you, nor to discourage you. I have accepted your invitation in that spirit which should influence every good citizen and true friend of your race, when called upon to do you a service.
It would have been very easy, and it might have been very politic in me to decline it; but, while seeking no public favors, I have never dodged any public responsibility, and as I believed some good might be accomplished by accepting the invitation, I did not hesitate about it. I cannot feel otherwise than deeply gratified, too, at this evidence of your confidence in me, and I shall certainly always endeavor to justify it.
The worthy and well-disposed among you are entitled to the sympathy and encouragement of all good people. I believe that you will receive it; and here let me say, at the outset, that it is unjust and a mistake to suppose that the white people among who you were born and raised, with whom you played when you were children, and served as you grew up, have all at once turned to be your enemies, because those of you who were formerly slaves have suddenly been set free.
Sudden reverses of fortune are apt to embitter and depress men, it is true, and it requires more philosophy than most of us possess to submit uncomplainingly to loss of property---but the white people know that you are not responsible for their loss. On the contrary, they know that you have simply accepted the freedom which has been given to you. They do not hate you---they are not your enemies.
Bad men have been among you and taught you otherwise, perhaps, but what do such teachers know about the matter? What are their motives? Is it because they love you so much, or because they hate some other persons so intensely? Will their teachings do any good? Is it calculated to make two person live happily and harmoniously together, to be secretly telling one of them all the time that the other is his enemy and wishes to destroy him?
Oh no, my friends, such teachers as these are laying a snare for you, unconsciously perhaps, but a snare nevertheless. They are your worst enemies, because they advise you to a course which can result in nothing but injury to yourselves. As far as my observation extends, the white people, with rare exceptions, are disposed to help those of you who are industrious and well-disposed, in every way possible.
Now let us look at the situation of affairs here in North Carolina
and throughout the South. What is it?
The institution of slavery, which has existed among us for a much longer time than the constitution of the United States---which was established
and encouraged in the South by old England and New England, contrary,
in some instances, to the wishes of the Southern people, and particularly contrary to the wishes of the people of North Carolina, before there was any such government as the United States, and afterwards was sustained by the United States government as a lawful institution---this institution,
I say, has been destroyed by the terrible civil war which has devastated
this country for the past four years. It no longer exists.
There are now no slaves in the United States. God has so ordered it,
and to His will it is our duty at all times to say amen. The people of
North Carolina, except a few obstinate and impractical men, who
cannot and will not realize facts which they do not like, accept this fact
of the destruction of slavery as settled and determined, practically, if not legally; and the people of North Carolina, in the convention which will
soon be held, will vote almost, if not quite, unanimously in acknowledgement of this fact.
Our people know that slavery was staked on the issue of the war, and having failed to sustain it with the sword they are perfectly well aware that
it cannot be continued. Like sensible and honest men, who have been
fairly vanquished in a war of unequalled magnitude, they acknowledged
the fact and accept the consequences. They intend, too, to make the
best of the matter, and thousands now think that their prospects are
fairer than they ever were in the days of slavery.
With this great change in your condition and relations toward the white race, come new duties and responsibilities for both races.
The old state of things has passed away, and we, all of us, white
and black, must adapt ourselves to the new circumstances; but
in order to do so we must understand the circumstances.
You have rights now which you did not have before, but the white
people, as a class, have not lost any of their rights, except the right to
hold slaves. A very few of them are denied privileges which they once enjoyed, but that is a matter between them and the government, with
which you have nothing whatever to do. I understand that some ignorant and misguided colored people, more particularly in the country, are under the impression that they are not only free, but that the property of their former owners will be taken away and given to them. Of course this is
a cruel mistake, and most of you know better than to be misled by such
an extravagant idea.
The government has emancipated those of you who were slaves. It has freed you from bondage, and made null and void the laws which were peculiarly applicable to your former condition. It protects you in your personal liberty. It gives you a right to acquire and hold property, and to have the benefit of your own labor; to educate yourselves and your children; to worship God in your own way and under ministers of your
own choice, and to seek your own happiness, subject only to the laws
of the country. But up to this time, it has done nothing more, and the prevailing opinion seems to be that it can legally do nothing more.
If North Carolina was fully restored to her position and all her
rights as a State of the Union under the constitution, it is very
certain that the government could not, contrary to the State
laws, confer any other political rights upon individuals than such
as I have enumerated.
The constitution of the United States leaves such questions as, who
shall vote, or who shall sit on a jury, or be a witness in the civil courts
of a State, to the determination of the States respectively---each one
for itself. The government cannot dictate to Massachusetts or Ohio who shall vote there, or what the qualifications of a juror or witness shall be.
The citizens of each State have exclusive control of such matters,
and, therefore, if North Carolina is recognized now as a State having
the same constitutional rights as any other State, the question whether
you be allowed to vote, sit on juries, etc., etc., is not for the government, but the citizens of North Carolina to determine. What the exact position
of North Carolina towards the general government is, I confess my
inability to inform you.
Being a new question in the politics of this country, it remains to be
settled by the proper authorities. One thing is certain, viz: That you
cannot vote now, under the regulations established by the President for
the reorganization of the State government. The people of North Carolina, in the convention which shall soon assemble, may pass a law prohibiting any white man from voting unless he can read and write, or unless he
owns a certain quantity of land or other property, or unless he has or
does some other thing.
Free colored men voted in North Carolina until the year 1835, then
they were prohibited; and during all that time, when they were allowed
to vote, there were thousands of white men in the State who could not
vote for a member of the State Senate. No one, white or colored,
could vote for senator unless he owned fifty acres of land six months
before the election. Some colored men owned that much land and voted, while thousands of white men did not own that much and could not vote. This law requiring a voter for senator to own fifty acres was not altered
until about eleven years ago.
So you see if there is any hardship in being denied the right of suffrage, it is a hardship which white men have had to submit to as well as colored men.
Colored men are not allowed to vote in some of those Northern States where their best friends are supposed to reside, and in every State where they do vote they are obliged either to be able to read and write, or own
a certain amount of property, or both.
It comes with very bad grace, therefore, from persons from those States to insist upon others doing for the colored man what they
will not do for him themselves.
The colored men at the North are comparatively few in number, too,
and as a class, have enjoyed better opportunities of education and improvement than most of you, and, therefore, are better qualified
to vote understandingly, although their vote is a mere “drop in the bucket” after all. Many persons think that there should be a qualification of all voters---that is to say, no man should vote unless he is qualified by education, or an interest in the soil, or the like, to vote understandingly,
and such is my opinion.
The right to vote for one’s rulers is a great privilege, enjoyed only by a
free people, but it is a privilege which is greatly abused. I look upon universal, unrestricted free suffrage as a curse instead of a blessing, and
I think experience has proved the correctness of my opinion.
I believe the true and just rule to be to adopt a standard of qualification
for voters of some kind, either in intelligence or property, or both,
and to allow every man who can attain that standard to vote, whether
he be white, black, green, yellow, red, or any other color, and to
prohibit any from voting who cannot attain that standard.
This is my honest and candid opinion, and I utter it without fear or the
hope of reward; but as I came here to tell you “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” I must add that I do not believe that a majority
of my fellow-citizens think and feel as I do on this subject, though I
believe the time will come when my views will prevail in North Carolina.
I believe that there are some colored men in this hall who could
vote now with quite as intelligent a conception of what they were doing as many as white men; but I believe, also, that a large percentage of the colored people are not yet qualified to exercise
this privilege. They have no acquaintance with politics---they
cannot fully understand the questions which their votes would help
to decide--- and consequently they would be mere tools in the
hands of demagogues.
Time would remedy all this, and the number of colored voters in
proportion to population would increase with the speed of education among you. Every man would strive to educate his children and fit them
for the duties of a citizen, and with this stimulus before you, the elevation
of your race in the scale of humanity would be rapid and sure. I speak
this much on the subject of suffrage because I am informed that it is a subject which occupies much of your thoughts, and about which you
feel great anxiety.
The right to vote is all that stands between you and the title of
“American citizen.” Whether that right will be extended to you or not,
I cannot tell. I have already expressed my willingness to see those of
you vote who can reach the common standard which I think should be erected for all citizens, but I have also stated that I am in advance of
the public opinion in North Carolina.
One thing, however, I think all ought to agree to, and that is, that if you cannot vote you ought not to be taxed, and this act of justice will, at least,
I believe, be performed towards you, especially as your presence among
us will give us more representatives in Congress than we ever had there.
Each State is entitled to one representative in Congress for every ninety thousand inhabitants, and under the old system three-fifths of all the
slaves were counted. Now there being no slaves, and all being free, all
will be counted, making the number two-fifths greater, and thus giving North Carolina one or two more members of Congress. To free you
from taxes in case you are not allowed to vote, will be little enough to compensate for this advantage to us.
But I wish you to never lose sight of one thing, my friends, and that
is, that while you would doubtless rejoice at a law allowing you to vote, you are bound to obey the law if it should be otherwise.
Recollect that a large majority of the people of North Carolina
are whites, and that, therefore, whether you vote or not, they will always control the State; they will control it by a majority if you
do vote. The majority must govern.
The United States government asserted and maintained that doctrine in
the war which has just closed. It will continue to assert and maintain
that doctrine, and you cannot resist it without inviting destruction
Let the present condition of these South States be a warning to all who would undertake to defy the authority and power of the United States
over all its territory. It is now one of the most powerful governments, if
not the most powerful, on earth. It has given you all the freedom you
enjoy, and it would be very unwise to incur its displeasure, and bring
down its wrath upon your heads.
Now let us drop this matter of suffrage, and turn to something still more closely affecting you, as it concerns the means of obtaining your daily bread, and touches your every day life. You have heretofore constituted principally the laboring population of the South.
You will, hereafter, necessarily be laborers, but you will not be the
only laborers. The institution of slavery was all that kept foreign
immigration from our shores. The tide of foreigners set to the North
and West, where they could buy good lands very cheap, live in a free State, and give their children the best advantages of education. A
very large proportion of these are the most laborious and thrifty people
in the world. They have no stumps in their fields, no unpainted,
dilapidated buildings, nor broken down fences on their land. Their
farms are like garden-patches, and under the influence of their intelligent industry, the wilderness blossoms as the rose. They improve and enrich
any country they may inhabit.
Now, since the abolition of slavery has removed the only obstacle in
the way, these thrifty, intelligent people are coming out to the South.
The climate, the soil, and certainty of prosperity, invite them to our land. The tide will soon turn in this direction, and when they come with their intelligence, stout hearts and sturdy arms to settle among us, you will
have to bestir yourselves, or be left far behind in the race. Lazy, thriftless people, white or black, will inevitably be elbowed out of the way, to
make room for the industrious, the active and the enterprising.
The land will be a bee-hive, and the drones will perish. There is
every inducement for you to become enlightened, upright and industrious members of the community. Every consideration of self-interest impels
you to it. With your new rights you have responsibilities which were not imposed on you before. The marriage relation, which in the days of
slavery had no legal force, is now equally as binding upon you as upon
the whites. The law will compel you to observe the duties incident to this relation, and for any violation of them you will be punished as white
people are punished. The loose ideas which have prevailed among you
on this subject must cease. You will have to support and take care of
your families. You cannot abandon them at your pleasure. The aged
and infirm, who were formerly a charge upon their owners, now fall to
your care. You will have to support them.
You had no inducements when you were slaves to be economical and saving, and consequently you were careless about money, and contracted habits of extravagance. These habits will have to be abandoned now, and more particularly because your wages cannot reasonably be expected to
be very high. The white people of the South are greatly reduced in circumstances. The war which effected your freedom has destroyed
the wealth of the country. The capital invested in slaves alone amounted
to about two thousand five hundred millions of dollars. This, for one item,
is gone. They have lost as much more in various ways.
Your freedom was obtained at a tremendous sacrifice of blood and treasure, and this poverty of the country in which you necessarily share is a part of the price you pay for it.
You ought to establish schools for the education of your children, and
lay up money for a rainy day. You ought to devote all the energies of
your nature to the task of elevating your race. You ought to do all you
can to show the world that you deserve and can maintain the freedom
and the privileges which have been bestowed upon you. In these efforts every good man will bid you God-speed, and before them every
prejudice of those who look upon you with distrust will melt away. But
let me tell you that in order to succeed in these efforts you will have to prove yourselves an exception to every instance of emancipation which
has ever happened in the history of your race.
The faith of many people in the idea of emancipation has been
greatly shaken by the experience of other countries. In some of
the West Indies, through the extraordinary exertions of some
humane and philanthropic men, the colored people who were emancipated about a half century ago, after a long night of degeneracy and degradation, are beginning to advance in the
career of civilization; but in St. Domingo and Jamaica
they have relapsed into a state of barbarism, and, in an instance related to me a few days ago, by an eye-witness, as having
occurred about the first of the present year, twenty or more of
the inhabitants were condemned for eating human flesh.
The great advantage which your race enjoys here is contact and daily association with the white race. Their influence upon you, as far as civilization is concerned, must be beneficial, and, therefore, you ought to cultivate the friendship and good-will of the white people, and not to
array yourselves in feeling against them.
By doing the latter you have everything to lose and nothing to gain.
The power which is placed in the hands of the majority of the people
will not be used for your benefit, if you undertake to ignore and
disregard that majority. Do not strike too high. Ambition, within decent limits is very commendable, but it is wise to remember that “by that sin fell the angels.” If you make a mistake in this direction it may set you back instead of helping you forward.
As far as human agency is concerned in the management of human affairs, intelligence and wealth are the controlling influences. They are bound to govern. In our country wealth is the result of intelligence and industry,
and it is shorn of none of its power here. You are, as I said just now,
the laboring population of the country. Intelligence and industry may,
and doubtless will, transform some of you into the class of capitalists---
but these are the only means by which you can reach that end. Here
then lies the path on which you should travel. Seek knowledge---be industrious---work. Lead quiet and orderly lives, and obey the laws,
and you will prosper. Disregard these injunctions, and fifty years from
to-day your race in these States will be nearly extinct.
These are some of your duties and responsibilities in the new situation
in which you are placed. The white people have their duties and responsibilities also, and I hope and believe that they will endeavor
to perform them. We---the two races---occupy the same land; we
are dwelling together, under one government. It seems to be the will
of Providence that for some time at least, if not for all time, the two civilizations should exist side by side, though in some respects they
will always be separate and distinct.
We cannot desire to see you degenerate into a condition of degradation, idleness and vice. Constituting so large a portion
of the community, the interests of all should be affected by such a condition of things. The teachings of our religion, and of humanity,
as well as our hopes of prosperity forbid it. It is our duty and it
is our interest to aid you in the elevation and improvement of
your race, and this aid, if you prove yourselves worthy of it,
you will receive.
You cannot expect everything to be accomplished for you in a day.
The improvement of your condition must be the work of time. Your
simple freedom is the result of many years’ agitation of the slavery
question, winding up with four long years of terrible, bloody war.
If you are only true to yourselves now and in the future you have
everything to hope from the generosity and justice of the white people.
I wish to impress upon you the fact that they are disposed to be
friendly towards those of you who show the right spirit, and only
And I wish to impress this upon you for your own sakes particularly,
and not for theirs, for I am well satisfied that the question of the two
races living harmoniously and prosperously together, rests entirely with
you for determination. I most sincerely believe, that some, a great many,
of the truest and best friends, the most disinterested friends you have in
this world, are to be found right here amongst former slaveholders.
Many of the most intelligent among you know this very well, and acknowledge it, and act upon it. Continue to believe it and act upon
it and you will not be betrayed. Justice requires me to say that I think
you have received your freedom, generally speaking, with a spirit
worthy of praise.
Some colored people have a very imperfect and incorrect idea of the freedom which has been given to them, it is true, but this was to be expected and was not unnatural. They ought, however, to be put right
in the matter, and it is the duty of the influential---the leaders---among
you to see this thing.
You ought to make them understand that freedom does not mean
the right to do as they please without regard to other people;
that it does not give them the right to injure, to insult or annoy
other people, white or black, or to lounge about in idleness---this
is the freedom of savages.
The educated few among you will have the most influence in shaping
the destiny of your race, and therefore the responsibilities of your station are very great. I hope you appreciate them and will act accordingly.
I have only one or two other topics upon which to advise you and then
my task will be finished. It is not to the interest of colored people to
crowd into the cities and towns in too great numbers. What they all as
a class want now is good, steady employment, at fair wages, on the
farms, turpentine lands, timber swamps, mines, railroads, navigable streams, etc, etc., of the country.
Their first duty to themselves and their families is to provide the means
of subsistence for the present, and, if possible, to secure situations
which will enable them to “lay aside something for a rainy day.” They
ought to make it a chief object to save enough to buy a little land as soon
as possible, and, when bought, to settle on it immediately and cultivate
it diligently. Only a few of you are what are called skilled laborers,
and these few will find the competition with skilled white labor greater
than they ever experienced before.
A new era has dawned for you, to be sure, but a new era has also
dawned for the country. This good old State of North Carolina, God
bless her, is wide awake now, if she never was before, and her future
is as bright as that of any State in the Union. She has resources of which
the world is profoundly ignorant, and which when developed will make
her the richest State in the South. She is about starting on a career of prosperity heretofore unknown---a prosperity which will shed its
blessings upon all her children of whatever color or race, who seek
to benefit thereby.
I would encourage you, my friends, to entitle yourself to a participation
in this prosperity. I would urge you as a friend who desires to see you enjoy all the happiness and good fortune to which you can justly lay
claim, to seek employment, to labor diligently to improve your
condition and your race, to abide faithfully by the laws, to educate
your children and to live in such a way as to command the respect
and sympathy of your fellow-men.
You must not judge the future by the present.
Everything is in an unsettled condition now. Military authority
necessarily prevails until the civil authority can be fully established, society
is demoralized, and evils are common. But this will not last long.
The machinery of civil government will soon be put into motion.
Elections will be held, the courts will be open for the punishment of
crime, and the dispensation of justice, and law and order will once again
be fully restored to this recently afflicted land. God speed the day,
and may He who rules the destinies of all send us permanent peace
and happiness and prosperity.
Alfred Moore Waddell
An Address Delivered to the Colored People By Their Request at
the Wilmington Theatre, July 26th, 1865, by Alfred M. Waddell.
Printed at the Daily Wilmington Herald Office, 1865
(Special thanks to Steve McAllister, McAllister & Solomon Rare & Used Books, Wilmington.
©2006 Cape Fear Historical Institute