[Washington, D.C. December 1865]
To The Honorable Senators and Members of the House of Representatives in Congress Assembled.
We, the Colored Citizens of the District of Columbia, do most respectfully memorialize your Honorable Bodies in our behalf to the following effect:
We would press upon your attention a principle universally admitted by all Americans, namely, that “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” The Colored American citizens of the District of Columbia are denied the benefits of this conceded principle, in being refused the right of suffrage in the District of Columbia, and therefore appeal to you for this franchise.
We respectfully submit to your Honorable Bodies, that a large portion of the Colored citizens of the District of Columbia are property holders; that they pay no inconsiderable amount of taxes; but are nevertheless as slaves to its distribution, unlike other tax-payers they see the proceeds of their labor taken and disposed of without a single voice.
We are intelligent enough to be industrious; to have accumlated property; to build, and sustain churches, and institutions of learning. We are and have been educating our children without the aid of any school-fund, and, until recently, have for many years been furnishing unjustly as we deemed, a portion of the means for the education of the white children of the District. We are intelligent enough to be amenable to the same laws, and punishable alike with others for the infractions of said laws. We sustain as fair a character in the Records of Crime and the statistics of Pauperism as any other class in the community, while unequal laws are continually barring our way, in the effort to reach and possess ourselves of the blessings attendant upon a life of industry, of self-denial, and of virtuous citizenship.
We also represent that out of a population of less than 15.000, we have contributed three full regiments, over 3.500 enlisted men, while the white citizens out of a population of upwards 60.000 sent only about 1.500 enlisted men for the support of the Union, the Constitution and the Laws. In all our Country's trials, our loyalty has never been questioned–our patriotism is unbounded. At our country's call we volunteered with alacrity, and that without the incentives of high pay, bounty and promotion.
We cherish fond hopes and laudable desires, and have honorable aspirations in connection with the future of our country. Your Honorable Bodies have done much for us within the past three years, for which you have the Sincere, over-flowing gratitude of our whole people. You have given us a free District, and a free Country. Still without the political rights enjoyed by every other man, the colored men of the District of Columbia are but nominally free.
Experience teaches that all reforms have their opponents. The same experience also teaches that apprehensions of evil arising from reforms founded in justice, are but seldom if ever realized. We would respectfully offer as an illustration the just act of the thirty seventh Congress by which Slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia. The opponents of that measure predicted most dire results to this community–which was to be the “White man's Hell,” and ruin to the party whose liberation was proposed. There has been no realization of this prediction of evil, but, on the contrary, the happy results of this just measure are now manifest and conceded by all. As Freemen,–far from being a terror and a curse to the country, they are a terror to its enemies only. Experience likewise teaches that that debasement is most “humane which is most complete. The possession of only a partial liberty, makes us the more keenly sensible to the injustice of withholding those other rights which belong to a perfect manhood.
Without the right of suffrage, we are without protection, and liable to Combinations of outrage. The petty officers of the law respecting the source of power, will naturally defer to the one having a vote; and the partiality shown in this respect operates greatly to the disadvantage of the colored citizen.
These principles and Considerations are the basis upon which we predicate our claim for suffrage, and civil equality before the law, and for which we will ever pray. Respectfully submitted.
John Francis Cook et al. to the Honorable Senators and Members of the House of Representatives in Congress Assembled, [Dec. 1865], 39A-H4, Committee on the District of Columbia, Petitions & Memorials, series 582, 39th Congress, U.S. Senate, Record Group 46, National Archives. Approximately 2,500 names appear on the petition, each apparently in the handwriting of the signer.
Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 817–18.