— James A. Garfield American politician, 20th President of the United States (in office in 1881) 1831 - 1881
Context: But it will be asked, Is it safe to admit to the elective franchise the great mass of ignorant and degraded blacks, so lately slaves? Here indeed is the great practical question, to the solution of which should be brought all the wisdom and enlightenment of our people. I am fully persuaded that some degree of intelligence and culture should be required as a qualification for the right of suffrage. I have no doubt that it would be better if no man were allowed to vote who cannot read his ballot or the Constitution of the United States, and write his name or copy in a legible hand a sentence from the Declaration of Independence. Make any such wise restriction of suffrage, but let it apply to all alike. Let us not commit ourselves to the absurd and senseless dogma that the color of the skin shall be the basis of suffrage, the talisman of liberty. I admit that it is perilous to confer the franchise upon the ignorant and degraded; but if an educational test cannot be established, let suffrage be extended to all men of proper age, regardless of color. It may well be questioned whether the negro does not understand the nature of our institutions better than the equally ignorant foreigner. He was intelligent enough to understand from the beginning of the war that the destiny of his race was involved in it. He was intelligent enough to be true to that Union which his educated and traitorous master was endeavoring to destroy. He came to us in the hour of our sorest need, and by his aid, under God, the Republic was saved. Shall we now be guilty of the unutterable meanness, not only of thrusting him beyond the pale of its blessings, but of committing his destiny to the tender mercies of those pardoned rebels who have been so reluctantly compelled to take their feet from his neck and their hands from his throat? But someone says it is dangerous at this time to make new experiments. I answer, it is always safe to do justice. However, to grant suffrage to the black man in this country is not innovation, but restoration. It is a return to the ancient principles and practices of the fathers. Let me refer you to a few facts in our history which have been but little studied by' the people and politicians of this generation.