This week we are looking at an item in our digital collection that highlights African-American history, in honor of Black History Month.
This item is a speech by Elisha Wolsey Peck, chairman of the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1867. The speech discusses the right for African-Americans to vote. The new Alabama state constitution included this right and was ratified in 1868, however, on the state and local levels intimidation by the Klan impeded African-American voting. African-Americans would continue to struggle for this right over the next decade.
Below these images you will find a transcription of the speech.
The work is done. the People of the State of Alabama have declared, through you their representation, that all men are created equal. They have made it a part of the fundamental laws of the state that liberty and equality shall exist here from generation to generation.
To my […] fellow citizens in this convention, let me say to you, go home to your wives and your children, your friends and your neighbors, and say, rejoice and sing, for your liberty and equality is now founded upon a rock, it is a part of the Constitution of the State, and all free men who shall hereafter exercise the great privilege, the right to vote, will have, first to swear, he will never attempt to deprive you of these, your chartered rights, nor will he encourage any one else in doing so.
And to all the loyal, union men, who during long years of persecution and oppression when you had no security for life or property, when you had to flee and hide yourselves among the woods and in the mountains for safety, let me say to you, the constitution we have formed, if ratified by the People, will, in my judgement, if duly executed and observed, give you, hereafter, security and protection in the enjoyment of all the privileges so dear to every free man, and secure you against any harm or injury, for your bold and patriotic adhearence to the Government of the United States when treason was rife and in the ascendant – you are protected by the highest obligation known to human laws.
If this will not give you protection and secure you from persecution and injury no governement but a government founded on force can do it. But it will do it, the great body of the People, are essentially honest, and have a convention for the solemnities of an oath, a Christian fear at violating it.
Again I say, the work, as far as we are concerned, is done and now, let us go home and show our work to the People, and ask their satisfaction of it. If we do this and do it correctly, it will be accomplished and the state will ever be restored to that high position which it enjoyed in the Union before it was destroyed by traitorous hands. The hands of her own children
In conclusion, gentlemen, accept my sincere thanks for the gentleness and kindness I have […] at your hands, as your presiding officer. Let me assure you individually of my earnest prayers for your prosperous journey home and for the final success of our great work. God grant it may accomplish the most sanguine wishes of its friends and restore the State of Alabama to peace and prosperity.
My heart with gratitude and good will to each one of you.