The Negro's Right to Rule

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The Negro's Right to Rule

By Herman Kuehn.

The race problem at the south is widely discussed and little understood. T'ew who talk about it take the trouble to analyze it. We hear much of the violation of the rights of the negro. When we come to inquire we find that the claim resolves itself into the plaint that the negro is deprived of his right to vote. As tho the right to vote were a finality. Back of the right to vote is the claim of the right to rule.

Granting in advance that the negro has quite as much right to rule as any other race I yield nothing, inasmuch as the right to rule cannot exist without the power to enforce it, and if there were indeed any cogency in the concept of a right to rule there would be equal validity for the right not to be ruled, and the maintenance of this right also depends upon the power to enforce it.

The clamor of the rights doctrinaries is, then, at bottom, an appeal to force, unless the hope prevails on the part of the doctrinaries to convince the white people of the south that it is just to permit the negroes to rule where their numerical preponderance gives them pow.er involved in a count of voters.

It is said that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The white inhabitants of the states wherein the problem occurs will never consent to the rulership of a race that has proclaimed its inferiority. This the American negro has done, emphatically, unequivocally, and, alas! effectually.

There was a time (at the November election in 1900) when the negro, in communities where his right to vote was not questioned, had a notable opportunity to register his views on the inequality of races. President McKinley was a candidate for re-election. Only shortly before the ballotting the president had justified the treachery practiced upon our allies in the war with Spain, by disrupting their young republic, on the plea that the Fillipino people were unfit for self-government, and that our duty toward an inferior people required that we deprive them of their autonomy. Where was the negro then? Where all those illustrious examples of the shining progress made by the race? Not a chirp was heard from their most exalted, whether in the colleges, the pulpit or the editorial columns of their newspapers and magazines. And surely if the Fillipino people are of an inferior race then the negro is no less so. It is not I who say this. The negro himself has said it, said it in unmistakeable terms. It may be urged that the unanimous vote of the negroes, which in some of the states constituted the balance of power whereby the election was carried for McKinley, was prompted by other considerations. Is it not remarkable, then, that not one of them thruout the length and breadth of the land adopted the course pursued by the late Senator Hoar, who stated that he cast his vote for McKinley despite his abhorrence for that candidate's iniquitous proceedings with regard to the Fillipinos. The negroes, on the contrary, have never since quit making a special merit of the part the colored troops played in the .extinction of the first Asiatic republic.

(No such conflict as that which we have come to recognize as our race problem could have arisen if mankind were not dominated by the superstition that the maintenance of social tranquility depends upon rulership. There was never in all human experience any enterprise that required compulsion or rulership. There are many undertakings upon which people are so generally agreed that practically unanimous agreement is assured. If there be such divisions as rive a community with reference to its expediency or cost, or any other feature of the 'enterprise, then those who are in favor of it can still proceed without compelling a minority to engage with them or pay for what the minority does not want. There is a popular delusion (based upon a mass of "sposins" that never materialize in actual experience) that under liberty some men would shirk social obligations devolved upon them by good neighborliness. But experience combines to show that the shirker is always a product of compulsion. Man, untrammeled by the superstition that rulership is an inevitable concomitant of good order, permits his gregarious instincts to dominate him, and these prompt him to social conduct. Human nature may always be relied upon to act in conformity with instinctive good neighborliness, and a like reliance may be placed upon resentment against being compelled to do even that which he desires to do.

Were there no dread on the part of the southern white people of a recurrence of negro rulership, there would be less, if any, harshness in the situation. Nor is this dread unaccountable, or unreasonable. For some years after the war, during the "reconstruction" period, the negroes of the south were in power and successfully demonstrated their unfitness for mastery.

Aside from the "right to rule," the "right to vote" has no relevancy. The black voter gets no more for his cotton and pays no less for his corn than his non-voting neighbor of any race, nor are the exactions of the landlord determined by the consideration of the tenant being one of the voting sort or the disfranchised. True, there is the matter of Jim Crow cars, but aside from a sentimental regard for dignity, it seems that the ride for a nickel is quite as long and comfortable in the black man's car as in the white man's, and the distinction will give way when the fear of negro rulership loses its force. Then, too, there ar,e the schools. Of course to those who are under the delusion that it is a godgiven right of the ruling class to put th,e burdens of cost upon the governed, it is nothing short of a crime in the Southern whites to resent being compelled to pay for the schooling of negro children. In the absence of compulsion or the threat of coercion neighborhood schools would not lack support in generous measure, but it is quite as natural for white men to resent being compelled to pay for the schooling of black children, as it would be for the black men to chafe under the compulsion of contributing for the schooling of white children. To the extent that emphasis is given to the "educational" phase of th,e race problem just to that extent are we justified in assuming that after all the rights of the negro that ar,e being violated consist of the right to compel other people to pay his bills, and if he has not that right what is the use of any of the rights he professes to claim?

Badly as the negro has been treated in parts of the south who dares say that he would have made greater progress under the conditions that would have prevailed had negro domination continued? And granting that much injustice has been done, here and there, to unoffending black men, who dares say that harsh treatment is the rule rather than the exception? And who dares say that there would be any considerable severity toward the blacks at all if the terror of resumption of negro rulership were removed?

He must be an infatuated optimist indeed who would contend that the negro race at the south could have made even the limited progress which is claimed for it, had negro, mastership persisted as it obtained for a time. Drunk with the pride of station and besotted with the gluttony for power, that period presented the negro in a very revel of "the beggar on horseback," ruthless, grasping, extravagant and depraved. Nor is it extraordinary that things should have been as they were. Any race, or any set of men upon whom such power is thrust would probably have shown no better results. That the white man's rulership is necessarily good and the black man's bad because of his race is not here claimed. But the white race were not willing to consent to be thus ruled, and they will never so consent. To the negro's claim of a right to rule (and nothing less than this is involved in the right to vote) the whiteman interposes his claim of a right, not a whit more cogent than the one it opposes, to be immune from a rulership to which he declines to consent.

The sincerity of many of the northern friends of the negro race is indubitable, but any encouragement extended to the negroes of the south to hope for political power over the whites of that section will do more to destroy than to uplift. The intention may be kindly,—so too was the intention of the man who threw a crowbar to his drowning friend.



  • Herman Kuehn, “The Negro’s Right to Rule,” To-Morrow 3, no. 2 (February 1907): 41-43.