by Andre E. Johnson
Director: The Henry McNeal Turner Project

I discovered Henry McNeal Turner by accident. While starting a seminar class in rhetorical criticism and trying to hone in on a dissertation topic, I ran across a speech delivered by Turner. He delivered the speech on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives as the House debated whether African Americans could hold office in the state of Georgia. I remember reading the speech and wondering if anyone had studied Turner’s rhetoric.

However, there was a problem. Since Turner lived during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was my belief that texts to study Turner would be difficult to find. Turner, like many of his contemporaries during this time, spoke extemporaneously—not from notes or prepared texts. Moreover, unlike many other speakers during this time, Turner did not travel with a stenographer—or someone who could have written what Turner said for later publication. Going into my project, I only hoped there were enough texts to do a solid dissertation.

Imagine my surprise though when I found that Turner was one of the most prolific writers and speakers during his time and that much of his writings were not lost to history. Turner published copious amounts of material for the newspapers, magazines, and journals of his day. Turner lectured throughout the country and wrote extensively on his travels to Africa. In short, many would consider Turner a public intellectual in today’s definition of the term.

Sadly, many today have not heard of Turner. Indeed, it is as if Turner has been lost to history. I found myself always explaining to people who Turner was and why I thought, at least, he was so important. This is why this site exists. It is our intent to recover a lost voice within American and African American history. Henry McNeal Turner deserves recognition and it is our fervent hope that this site begins to serve that purpose.

Speech at the Republican Convention

Speech of Mr. Turner

            Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: [A voice, louder!] I will be loud enough directly. When I left my home in Georgia I went eastward, and determined, in passing through several of the states, to ascertain the will of the people. I knew it would be almost impossible to give Georgia’s electoral vote to any Republican, notwithstanding the dead have been raised. Everywhere I went, everywhere I mingled with the people, the name of Blaine seemed to be talismanic. It extorted a cheer, and the people seemed to be James G. Blaine, of Maine. And in doing this, Mr. President and gentlemen of the convention, I want it understood that some of the names that have been mentioned I revere with a reverence that my tongue cannot express. The name of Morton, the champion of Gov. Pinchback, the defender of the outraged people of Louisiana! I would borrow a Raphael’s pen, and dip it in the sunlight of heaven, and write on Morton’s brow- “Honor, eternal honor.”

But, Mr. President, I believe that we have before us now a name that will arouse the people of this great country in a remarkable manner that the name of Morton cannot. I have nothing to say against Mr. Bristow. I listened to the eloquence of the great poet (1) of New York, as he defended the name of Bristow; and I paid equal deference to that learned son of Massachusetts, our minister to England (!). But, Mr. President, in the person of James G. Blaine we have a Republican about whom there is no question. He commenced with the party, and for twenty-five years he has been in its front, and to-day he stands the champion of Republican principles, I believe, in the United States of America. He gave his own stated, --so says an aged and learned doctor of divinity of Maine—to that party, and forever, I expect, buried Democracy on that sacred soil. It will never lift its head there again, I trust. He originated the spirit of the fourteenth amendment. He stood by the immortal Lincoln during the great struggle this country was passing through for freedom and justice and equality to all mankind and to chase out of this nation a set of insurgents who lifted impious hands against that flag that still floats over us, thank God. Mr. President, there is one thing I like about Mr. Blaine: he is a representative of Young America. He is no dead fossil. He is not tied on to any old constitutional barriers that shut out a parcel, a class, of God’s humanity, and tie him to a set of principles that are antiquated. 

One thing more I wish to say of Mr. Blaine, and –I have a dozen points to make, but will make but now—it is this: But for Mr. Blaine you would have no Republican party to-day. Wait, and I will show it. When the Democrats carried this country, at the last election, the Republican party of those days all over this land was thunderstruck, paralyzed, dead, and bleeding. It was Blaine, standing on the floor of congress, who shook aloft the banner of the Republican party, united the party, and defied the Democracy of this nation, and breathed again the spirit of activity and hope into this prostrate Republican party. Who can deny it?

Turner, Henry McNeal. Speech at the Republican Convention. The Henry McNeal Turner Project. (1876, June 14-16th). http://www.thehenrymcnealturnerproject.org/2019/04/speech-at-republican-convention.html

This Year Thou Shalt Die

This Year Thou Shalt Die

Sketch of a Sermon by Rev. H. M. Turner, L. L. D., Delivered in the Tabernacle, SUNDAY, January 2, 1876, 7 1-2 o’clock, P. M.—The New Year.

The Colored Tribune: March 4, 1874

“This year thou shalt die”—Jeremiah, xxviii: 16. The decree has gone out from God that all men shall die. It may therefore be said, that death is the common lot of man, ad yet, no truism has taxed Almighty wisdom more than this, to force its recognition among the inhabitants of the earth. Everybody gives a bague assent to death, yet how few realize the magnitude of that assent. The great bulk of humanity only entertain dreamy ideas of it. ask a man if he does not know he has to die and he will tell you yes, but its practical effects seldom if ever, enters his mind; he has been accustomed to hearing it said, everybody must die, and he yields a kind of traditional concession without ones in ten thousand times thinking of what he is saying, while at the very moment he is speaking death is undermining his constitutionality and the golden moments of life are flying away in swift succession, for
“Death rides in every breeze

And lurks in every flower.”

The words of my text is the sentence of God against Hananiah, a false prophet, who, in the days Zedekiah, king of Judah, endeavored to mislead the chosen people of God by lies, and even dared to contend with Jeremiah, the prophet. Hananiah withstood Jeremiah, the prophet, and publicly prophesied in the temple that within two years Jeconiah and all his fellow captives, with the vessels of the Lords house, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon, an indication what treacherous negotiations were already secretly open with Pharaoh--….. He corroborated his prophecy by taking the yoke from the neck of Jeremiah, a yoke he wore by divine command to symbolize the subjection of Judea and the neighboring countries to the Babylonian empire and braking it. But Jeremiah was ordered to tell the prophetic impostor, that for the wooden yoke which he had broken, iron yokes should be made and substituted, so firm was the dominion of Babylon destined to be for seventy years. This rebuke was accompanied by a prediction of Hananiah’s death, which took place in two months after it was made. This galse prophet unconditionally promised prosperity to an abandoned and unrepentant generation, and did not so much as exhort them to a ….. It was just such abominable trash as some men call the pure gospel in this day. All encouragement, promise, privilege, cheer, and hallelujah, without the least warning, discrimination of character, exhortation, or precept. There are preachers in the land by scores, who had rather deliver a fantastic sermon, coined out of an ignorant imagination, and raise a shout, than to utter the sober word of truth and have God’s endorsement—time servers and men pleasers were never made to hear the message of heaven. One “Thus saith the Lord,” is of more value than a thousand whimsical fancies. Man needs truth, stripped of all its caprices, however servers or terrific it may be.

“This year thou shalt die” was the appalling message which froze the heart of the rebellious prophet. And if we could but part the veil of the future and look through a few weeks or months of the near hereafter we might find ourselves in awful agony too. This is the first Sabbath of the new year—the second day of the year—we have started out to contend with 1876, the great centennial year. The whole nation is jubilant, the expectation of millions are high and gleeful. How many anticipations cluster around the future of thousands, yes, tens of thousands, who will never realize them, for God has said: “This year thou shalt die.” It may be me, it may you, but be sure it will be some of us, possibly several of us, for all of us cannot weather the storms of life another twelve months. Rev. Daniel Watts, the celebrated blind preacher, told us this morning from this pulpit, that it would be a wonder to himself should he live to enjoy the first Sabbath in another year—we all might say the same. But for the special care that God takes of us, we might write despair upon our every brow. I believe there are a thousand chances to die where there is one to live. Not that death in itself is natural—death is unnatural, abnormal, man was not made to die but to live; his probation should have terminated with an ……, like Enoch and Elijah; no blighting frost should have withered his brow or horrified his change of worlds. But sin gave birth to death, and death, like a hungry vulture, eventually eats us up. His greed is insatiable, his avarice knows no bounds; in search of his prey he darts swifter than lightning, his circuit is from pole to pole, the world is his slaughter house and the earth his cemetery. Millions and billions have fell beneath his stroke, and still the world of mankind is startled at the dread exclaim, “This year thou shalt die!” What a host of us too, will never see a new years Sabbath again. Let us see if we can adumbrate the multitude that will be gone twelve months from to-day. It is estimated that seventy persons die every minute; then four thousand two hundred die every hour, over a hundred thousand every day, seven thousand every week, three million and twenty four thousand every month; but oh! my God, listen at this, will you? Thirty-six million, seven hundred and forty-two thousand die every year; a multitude too great for the human mind to span. There is not a man on earth who could concieve of what such a concourse of men and women would be. They would reach in single file, twenty one thousand miles, three feet apart—almost around the globe; and at arms length, they would belt the entire world, and the same number could belt it two or three times at speaking distance. Yet such is the number that must die this year. And should we be visited with the ……, or some other fearful epidemic, this number may be greatly augmented; or suppose we should be visited with such earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions, as have swept tens of thousands away in the twinkling of an eye? For these dreadful calamities may happen at any time. Look how ……, Pompeii, and ….. were flooded with burning lava, and destroyed thousands in one fearful blast.

Look how quick two hundred and fifty thousand perished at Antioch in 526. Think of the terrible destruction that came upon ….. in 1755, when in six minutes sixty thousand men and women as good as we are were numbered with the dead. Think of the total destruction of Epuhemia, a city in Calabria, where five thousand were swallowed up in a moment, leaving nothing to mark the place but a dismal lake. Think of the volcanic eruptions at Jorullo(?) in Mexico in 1759, when ten miles of level earth were dashed up five hundred feet, burying everything in its ruins. Think of Skaptar Jokul in ……, which poured forth two streams of burning lava, one sixty miles long and twelve wide, and the other forty miles long and seven wide, and boh forty miles long and seven side, and both averging a hundred feet thick. Again, around a mountain in Java in 1772, forty villages reposed in peace, but the mountain sank, carrying the cities and inhabitants with it, leaving a lake fifteen miles long and six broad. Who that ever read, can forget the …… catastrophe, the greatest on record? The explosions were heard nine hundred and seventy miles one way and seven hundred and twenty the other. So heavy was the fall of ashes at the distance of forty miles, that houses were crushed and destroyed. The darkness at Java three hundred miles from the place was deeper than the blackest night and twelve thousand souls perished. Is there any reason we should not be visited with similar judgments? Are we miserable rebels against God any better than those sinners? May not the same judgment come upon some of our cities?—such as New York, Washington City, and God-defying and heaven-daring Savannah, a large majority of the inhabitants of which seem to think of but little else than pic-nics, ball rooms and blaspheming around grog-shops.

Oh, my friends, pause, pause a moment, the mandate of the eternal is, “This year thou shalt die.” Could we but see the streams of tears death will wring from our eyes this year, or hear the screams, groans and lamentations death will exhort before next new year, we would all exclaim, “woe is me.” But let me tell these husbands, some of you will follow your wives to the grave this year; wives some of you will weep over your coffined husbands and chrilden before next New Year’s day. God only knows who it will be, and well it is for us that God does only know, for if we knew it would paralyze the nations of earth and palsy the energies of the world; ships would stop sailing, railroad cars would stop running, commerce would go down, business would be stagnant, stores would be closed, fields would grow up in grass and weeds, while the early victims of death would become frantic with despair; and a wail unlike any since the world began, would be heard through the land, weeping for ourselves and weeping for one another. But while we may all not die this year, it is our every duty to keep a look out for death and prepare for it—life is uncertain death certain. Take this text home with you, write it upon your mantle-piece, post it upon the walls of your house and keep it, before you. Oh that God may save us, is my prayer.


Turner, Henry McNeal. This Year Thou Shalt Die. The Henry McNeal Turner Project.  (1876, March 11th).  http://www.thehenrymcnealturnerproject.org/2019/04/this-year-thou-shalt-die.html

A Speech on the Ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment



on the benefits accruing from the


and its



delivered at the celebration held in Macon, ga., April 19, 1870, by



Published in accordance with the resolution unanimously adopted by nearly 4,000 citizens.


Our country is cast into another mold, and the gigantic system of the wrong of ages is dashed down forever.—BANCROFT.

A country where untarnished truth

Shall reach the hearts of age and youth,
And move unchained in majesty,
A model land of liberty.—DR. ALLEN.

Fellow Citizens:

I am here to rejoice with you in celebrating one of the grandest events and inestimable blessings that ever crowned a nation’s brow or marked the term of a generation; verily this is an eventful dispensation. The drama of national purity and excellence is fast reaching its zenith and culminating in the climax of fadeless glories; the onward stride is marvelous. The purest elements that ever composed the organic structure of a country have been incorporated in ours. This truly is the age of humanitarianism; the triumph of liberal ideas; the march of fraternal feelings and the dying day of domination and conquest.

The devouring lion and the harmless lamb, for the first time, can now repose together under the shades of a republican government. The weakest creature between the shores of the two greatest oceans on earth can slumber peacefully under the benign whispers of that national sovereignty which bids him FEAR NOT.

Nearly one hundred years ago the revolutionary sires laid the foundation of these United States by proclaiming the declaration of Independence in the face of the British tyrant, and cemented the stones with the blood of a thousand battles. This foundation was broadly laid and embodied vast proportions.

It attracted the astonished gaze of mankind because no such a fabric had seen the light of Heaven since the gloom of the Adamic rebellion had shaded the verdant bowers of Eden. But while it was far in advance of any structure then known to mankind, it was still lamentably defective, and incommensurate to the wants of this progressive era of untrameled intellects and unfettered consciences. Its great arms embraced the sons of every nation, and legalized their heirship, save the darker hued sons of Ham. For what reason they were left out of the category (seemingly for a time by the pleasures of Heaven,) I am not able to explain, unless for the same reason that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart: that he might show the sceptics and rationalists of the nineteenth century that he still held the rein of government on earth, and executed his purposes among the armies of the sky.

However that may be, the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, all will concede, is the finish of our national fabric; it is the head stone of the world’s asylum; the crowning event of the nineteenth century; the brightest glare of glory that over hung land or sea. Hereafter, the oppressed children of all countries can find a temple founded up.........titude and religious equity, ample enough to..............ate them all and durable enough to vie with all.........ing time.

History informs us that the Assyrian Empire stood against the ravages of time’s corroding tooth for near eighteen hundred years. Prophecy symbolized this kingdom as a head of gold, ... when we compare the elements comprising the structure of ........don with those of our grand Republic, the principles ...... properties entering into ours, so far surpass those of Assyria that analogous reasoning might induce a warm-hearted patriot to believe ours is eternally to exist. I love to read the daring feats and trace the inimitable exploits of heroic Greece and chivalrous Rome. I admire the gallant French and proudly extol the courage which has caused extortionate tyrants to wither in Germany. I laud Fenianism so far as the sons of the Erin Isle are at work to remove the blight of oppression from their sire's graves. I could never tire in reading after such men as Garibaldi, Kossuth, Emmet, Toussaint, L'overture, Washington, and a multiplicity of others. It is with pleasure that I can boast an identity with the grand galaxy of moral and that I can boast an identity with the grand galaxy of moral and scientific reformers who have stood like a plateau of beacon lights along the shores of the world's reformatory revolutions.

But when I turn and scan the majestic achievements of the last seven years, and would fain equipoise them iith the ponderous mass of all ages, the preponderance is in favor of the coronary. Events just completed, so far excel them all that I can only define them as overwhelmingly inexpressible. I find nothing corresponding to it in Greece or Rome nor in the days of feudalism. The only event that synchronizes to any approach is the almost instantaneous liberation of the Russian serfs, and their immediate investiture with citizens' immunities. This was the mere edict of a Monarch, however, and not the will of a national Commonwealth.

In order to be a little more explicit let us take a glancing view at the history of our own country, and notice a few points which jut out most prominently in her illustrious career.

Less than four hundred years ago nothing was known of this continent beyond the visionary dreams of a few geographical speculators. The inexhaustible treasures of the Alleghanies and the rejuvenescent valleys of the Mississippi were slumbering where the foot of the civilized explorer had never trod, awaiting the galvanic shock of enterprise to dismiss their lethargy and whirl them into action. Why providence permitted this country of boundless resources to lie dormant while Asia, Europe and Africa were the world's theaters, I am inadequate to explain, but for the fact that it was destined to be the greatest theater of all, as has been thus far evinced by its grand career. This isolated country, however, at the proper time was aroused from its slumbers by the electric touch of enterprise. Columbus paved the way and ten thousand stranded the procession. Soon the extremities of color—black and white—met on the shores of the new world, and a scramble was inaugurated on the newly-found arena, to last till the Fifteenth Amendment should say "peace be still." The negro race was first introduced into this country by the contingency of avarice in the year 1620, just two hundred and fifty years ago.

Jamestown, Virginia, was the place of his disembarkation. Here was a human being to all intents and purposes. A being too, who had to play an important part in the dramatic arena of the newly discovered country. But the low order of his previous culture seemed only to fit him for a place between man and beast. Therefore, the status of the negro was rated and fixed in proportion to his pecuniary adaptation. This naturally consigned him to a degraded condition; and while he gave evidence of a higher sphere of importance in his susceptive and rational powers, these powers were interpreted by his after oppressors and construed through the color of greed and force of cupidity to be special endowments by the Creator to enable him the better to grace the relation of a slave. Public sentiment at first, however, adjudged and accorded him the mild protection of a sentient creature, restricted to minors. But as cotton, rice and sugar rose in value as national commodities, these were even lopped off by gradual incursions, till the negro, as a race, became as a prey to the ravenous wolves of all nations. The evidence of his manhood, as evinced by every reasonable instrumentality known in the catalogue of human exploits, gave no protection, afforded no shield, no relief, no bulwark, against the prowess of insatiable avarice. He demonstrated both his manhood and patriotism in religious zeal, in his moral bearing, on the bloody fields of war, amid the thunders of the navy, and the clanking of ten thousand sabres. Wherever the white man went, whatever he did, said, thought or wrote, was imitated by the negro; even the white man's dreams floated through the negro's brains. These attestations of his intellectuality and moral qualities spoke louder in defence of his rights than Senator Sumner could have done with seven thunders uttering his voice. It seemed to be the will of God, however, that we should be goaded and persecuted till a nobler dispensation should dawn. But the murky gloom and dense fog grew more inense till the thobs of freedom's heart had neraly become inert. Thousands wondered if a just being did really rule and reign supreme, or was the Bible a fable and the story of the Cross a time-blithing myth. When the yawning gulf of endless seritude would present itself in all the vauntedness of seeming defiannce to the powers of earth and heaven. But this was found to be the auspicious time. Verily, the darkest hour is just before day! and what we took to be ill omens, were only the precursors of grand events, big with mercy and ready to break in blessing on our heads. The press had become bitter, sarcastic, wicked and devilish. Politics had become strifish, corrupt and basely prostituted to selfish ends. The Bible was misinterpreted. The pulpit desecrated to a rostrum for the promulgation of wild heresies. God was blasphemously charged with sanctioning human slavery. Sectional broils, personal feuds and local animosities were alienating friends and kindred every day. The halls of legislation were devoted to disgraceful harangues and pugilistic combats. Statesmanship consisted in deceptive pettifoggery—popular topics—in efferbescing the diabolical ire of the ignorant rabble, and in leading them to the perpetration of the most horrific deeds ever charged upon mankind since the revel of the bloody orgies.

But, in the curt language of Hon. J. M. Simms, of Savannah, these were but the silver linings and golden fringes of better days. The indivisibility of the States, or an inseparable Union, had long been the theme of popular oratory and stump declaration. Daniel Webster had consecrated this topic by a protracted devotion of his almost superhuman powers to a constant portrayal of its inestimable blessings, so that thousands recognized it as a creed that embodied every virtue necessary to adorn a man and constitute a patriot. A generation had been born and reared under this training in the North, and so thoroughly had they imbibed the doctrine of States' Unity that many regarded the oneness of the States as not only indispensably unavoidable, but believed it to be equal if not worse than the most perfidious sacrilege, to even dream of their division. Thus the very thought to them was as repulsive as the lambent flare of a cyclops thunder forge all ablaze; because the very reverse had been their teaching till it had become as a second nature.

But John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, superior to Mr. Webster in intellectual sagacity and political shrewdness, led another wing antipodal to this in the Southern States. Mr. Calhoun maintained the right of secession, and the dogma of States sovereignty; that slavery was an inherent institution, incorporated in the fundamental or organic law of the land, and any infringement upon it, as such, was a sufficient reason why a State might withdraw or secede from the general government. In other words, the United States Constitution was a mere treaty between the States, to be annulled at their respective option.

The Southern States embarced this doctrine, and recognized State allegiance as paramount to that a citizen owed to the national compact, and for a generation this doctrine was preached and instilled in the growing youths so constantly and insidiously that they held it as sacredly as they did the Bible. This brought us to about the year 1860, when Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, by the grace of God, was elected President of the United States. The policy of Mr. Lincoln had been proclaimed as not favoring the further spread of slavery, but that he would not interfere with its existence in the already slave States. But the slave population was increasing so rapidly that those interested in it were chafed at the idea of the institution being limited to certain bounds, or more extentional confines.

Wherefore, this was considered by the Southern States as the auspicious time to test the right of a State to secede, and thus practicalize their theories; and, in the event of success, they would be enabled to establish a slaveocracy upon an endurable basis, and so perpetuate it for all coming time. South Carolina, the little pestiferous State of my birth and raising, true to her historic instincts, called a Convention and issued a declaration of secession and a manifesto of independence, and inaugurated war by attempting to drive the United States garrison from Fort Sumter; for no sooner did her artillery commence to belch out fire and shell at the National forces, than did the telegraphs flash the rebellious tidings all over the country, and every loyal heart heaved at the fearful news and recoiled at the thought of its inevitable sequence. The gauntlet of a severed country on the one hand and the perpetual establishment of slavery on the other, were then thrown down, and it only remained for the friends of liberty and a model government to take it up. The blast of the war trump was echoed by a proclamation from President Lincoln calling to arms seventy-five thousand soldiers, and suspending the mails in the Southern States. All compromises and pacific blandishments had now fled, and nothing but blood could atone for the errors of the past.

The North and South shortly afterwards met in two serried lines on the bloody fields of Bull Run and made that unknown place ever historic, in a defeat to the Union forces. But this defeat was indispensable, as it told the North, in unmistakable language, what newspapers and periodicals indicated, with no evidences, however, that could convince them: that this was a gigantic rebellion, and in order to crush it out every means and artifice would have to be resorted to known in the genius of civilized warfare. The warning was corresponindgly heeded, and resulted in a general uprising in the North, while the South, flush with the glories of a brilliant victory, marshalled her forces and marched them to the front as gallantly as Jupiter even hurled a Vulcan-forged thunderbolt at an evil genius. The contest of blood and carnage was now open, which was destined to crimson acres of land with human gore, and cover hundreds of battle fields with putrescent carcasses and bleaching bones.

Strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, as all history will attest, that unbridled vengeance, and the rage of the wildest furies generally paves the way for more glorious dispensations; and, as Rev. Henry Ward Beecher says, the roots of trees require water but the roots of men require blood. The one is made frondiferous by water, the other fructiferous of good results by blood, and as the yawning gulf of Rome refused to inclose itself till one of her most excellent sons plunged into its gaping mouth, so the rented breacher of secession refused to reunite and cure up, till the bravest and noblest sons ever born here or elsewhere, smoked upon the sacrificial altars of their country.

A review of that fearful struggle, however, I deem unnecessary, as its details and final result is too well known to thousands who still mourn their departed relatives and friends. Could we but comprehend the significance of many a furrowed cheek, we would see but the channel of rivers and tears which have flowed with saliferous elements down thousands of faces never before saturated from the effects of sorrow or grief. We might read in the gray hairs, hoary heads, wrinkled brows, palid cheeks, broken hearts and untimely graves of thousands, the doleful history of our late war. The end of it finally arrived, however, and lo and behold four million of human beings were found standing in the vale of locomotive freedom, bearing the aspect of creatures who had just been resurrected from the valley of dry bones. A close inspection discovered them to be in a needy condition. True, the negro was free locomotively, but he had none of those indispensable implements of freedom with which to maintain even a povertous existence, he was void of either land, houses, money, education, names or self-sustaining experience. He neither knew how to buy, sell, make, bargain, hire, collect, spend his money, or to tell his name, beyond Dick and Jack, Poll and Sal. I do not enumerate in this account a few city-raised exceptions, but of the negro race through the country and in the aggregate. But there was a need which augmented his indigency and made his condition far more precarious than anything yet mentioned, that was his utter destitution of all civil and political rights.

Here was a race of human beings thrown out upon the turbulent ocean of life with neither civil compass nor political sail or rudder; true, he had a kind of automatic liberty, such as would enable him to go to Guinea or pandemonium, and might have answered very well in a country where men are controlled by their instincts, and the bully carries off the palm; but such a condition was by no means adequate to a country where the majesty of civil law is presumed to be the supreme sovereign of the land, and where the issues of life and death are suspended upon the inexorable mandates of that law. Had such remained the case, then slavery was to be preferred to freedom. A man protected by no legal guarantees is an outlaw, and such a divestiture of God’s conferred rights exposes him to death at any times. But some one will say, where that we are not dealing, if we are to chance it out, then let the programme of chance be impartial, and not restricted to the negro alone, particularly if he is an inferior race, as is argued by many.

Justice requires that a man have a voice in making the laws that may take the life of himself, his wife and children.

Taxation without representation is tyranny—is an axiom familiar to every school boy in the country—a time-honored declaration which finds a response in every honest heart, yet we were exorbitantly taxed, and sternly required to comply with every act on the statute books of the land or suffer the penalties of their violation, while all our previous circumstances had conspired to keep us in utter ignorance of their exactions. But our anomalous condition was soon made known to Congress, and protective measures were speedily devised and inaugurated to shield us from relentless spleen of intolerancy and to secure us a guarantee of existence. Hon. Charles Sumner, whose name alone is immorality, and Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, over whose new grave may glory ever hover, and a grand galaxy of other patriots and philanthropists gave the nation no rest day nor night till legal guarantees were thrown like a grand paraphernalia around every man, woman and child in the land, and lawful protection of life and person secured.

In the series of movements made to achieve this grand result, all of which were bitterly and stubbornly contested by the fossilerous and proscriptive adherents of the Calhoun wing, the following partial statement will serve as an after programme. Passing by the emancipatory proclamation of President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, as all are familiar with its operations and results, I beg to call your attention to the immediate work of the nation.

The first step taken in the erection of the magnificent structure was to amend the United States Constitution, or to change the organic law so as to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude henceforth and forever. This was to serve as the great fulcrum on which to rest all future levers of whatever name or character, that might be employed in prizing this slave-degraded race up to the exalted status of American citizenship. The amendment was finally ratified after a long and acrimonious scramble; and over twenty millions of American sons and daughters vociferated a grateful shout, and all the civilized world echoes the enrapturing blast, while the minstrelsy of the skies reverberated the tidings in transporting notes. But this did not complete the work; still the smoking embers were there through the building was consumed. The wiry twist of the viper was there, though he had been robbed of his poisonous fangs. The hideous monster lay palsied in death though his frightful ghost haunted to the place. Slavery still lingered though under the guise of proscriptive enactment. Its paws were everywhere visible but its weapons were sheathed as in institution. Therefore the contingencies growing out of common life necessitated further legislation; and the sequence was another step—the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill.

The history of this organization is so well known, with the dramatic part Andrew Johnson played in the scene, that I think a review of its wax and wane unnecessary and superfluous. I may say, however, that the most important benefit which accrued from the Freedmen’s Bureau was, that it taught the National Legislature that the rights of one man could not be entrusted to another and be kept unpolluted and inviolate. That doctrine has, and ever will prove itself to be the mere jargon of fanaticism. Man alone is the depository of his own rights and immunities; and for him to delegate them to another is but to consign them to the funeral pile; name it the Freedmen’s Bureau if you chose, or anything else, but it is slavery in the close. The blood of a million of men, as noble as any that ever swayed a sceptre, cried from a thousand battle-fields for the grant of a higher boon than the Freedmen’s Bureau to the negro. I also reckon in this count the Southern white men as dying for freedom too, for they were the negative of the positive result.

The next step taken by Congress was the establishment of civil rights, or the adoption of what is known as the Civil Rights Bill. This bill was intended to secure to the negro all the rights known in the range of jurisprudence, and rightly interpreted would have, in my opinion, carried with it every right commonly termed political; but the judiciary construction it received whittled it down to little, if any more than giving evidence in court. And while a regular caravan of petitmaitre Judges through the country, unknown to either fame or legal lore, true to their great prototype, Chief Justice Taney, were pronouncing the bill unconstitutional and revolutionary, and the newspapers were gasping and going into death-heaving paroxysms, and their readers falling into appalling convulsions over it, the benefits which actually accrued from it were so worthless that it often reminded me of an old legendary story concerning a mountain being once in great labor merely to give birth to a mouse. The most noisy windmill, strange to say, too, in all the nation against the measure, was Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who was elected to his exalted position solely upon the assurance of his friendship for the negro. Yet he deserted them and the party which elected him, in a most dastardly and servile manner. But for the treachery of this Tennessee Nero, the public heart would have never been half so poison; and thousands who are dead and sleeping in premature graves would now be living and enjoying the blessings of civil liberty, and augmenting the treasures of our growing Republic.

Nevertheless, it seems to be the order of Providence to purge all reformatory schemes by carrying them through the fires of persecutions. Even Heaven itself cannot be entered without great tribulations. Opposition appears to be the counterpoise that secures equilibrity of action, the balance-pole of steadiness and uniformity. The strength of the negative increases the force of the positive. Persecute a man and he is sure to go up, because God comes to his relief. The same holds good with nations and races.

The wars of David prepared a tranquil reign for Solomon. The bloody reign of Queen Mary paved the way for the triumph of Protestantism under Queen Elizabeth. The national scathings which all Europe received from the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte caused the establishment of the treaty system, and taught nations to settle their feuds by negotiation. The tyrannical treatment of Great Britain to the Colonies evoked the declaration of Independence, and gave to the world a country before whose glory the brightest government that ever saw the sun would pale. In the manner did the stormy and furious administration of Andrew Johnson prepare a new era for the administration of Gen. Grant. Every artifice of this chief aim of the nation turned in favor of the race whose blood he tried to suck, even to his effort to beguile that great man, John Mercer Langston. Vic bonus semper patrium decus est.

The next step taken by Congress was the most spasm-producing of all, viz: permission for all men in the ten revolted States to assist in their readjustment to the National Goverment, by the use of the ballot. But while this measure was the bitterest of all the other pills, the public mind was somewhat in a convalescent state to receive it, owing to previous enactments which had produced such a newspaper cholera-morbus in the land.

Nevertheless, the Secretary of Old Nick must have made a new requisition for stationery, if he pretended to keep a record of all the damns disgorged over the Reconstruction Acts. Against reconstruction as a right invested in Congress, there could be no doubt, and the thing itself was indispensable, ex necessitate rei. The rupture of secession had to be healed by the unity of action of some sort, and the rejection of the Johnson policy, subordinate the question to the National Legislature, and every sane man in the land knew it, and had the negro been passed by the work would have gone on without an if, or and, the crossing of a t, or the dotting of an i, would not have been asked for, more or less; but any act tending to incorporate his rights, in the category of those accorded to other American citizens, was a sufficient cause for raising the hue and cry, which almost generated another state of intractableness, that had not found a counterpart since the war closed.

Mr. Calhoun in the United States Senate, taking occasion to animadvert upon the Declaration of Independence, audaciously stated, in the face of the enlightenment of his day, that so much of that sacred instrument as declared all men born free and equal, “was the most dangerous doctrine of all political errors.” And from these and kindred remarks from the great proslavery Mogul, originated that frightful buncomb productive of so much mischief in the land, viz: This is a white man’s government! The same parity of reasoning as lead to such conclusion in this country, could, with as much propriety, proclaim this a white man’s world; and yet out of the thirteen hundred millions of human beings living upon the earth not more than three hundred and seventy millions are white, leaving nine hundred and thirty millions composed of other colors; and by the same parity of reasoning, doomed to serfdom and then to devildom. Sed Gloria, Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, for the falacy of such a dogma. Besides, the logic of events condemns it, as evinced in the history of all nations where caste or race has been the pretext for withholding human rights.

I might pause here to adduce extracts and references to prove the justice of Congress and stigmatise its opponents; but they would be too multitudinous for an occasion like this. Suffice it to say that the Reconstruction Acts proved to be all that the most sanguine could have desired. It required an act of Parliament to prevent a set of barbarous men once in Great Britain, from plowing horses by their tails. The act necessitated harness and they were accordingly procured; this allowed the tails to be used as a weapon of defense, in warding off blood-suckers and switching away their tormentors.

The reconstruction measures had an analagous bearing on the negro. He was used as the tail of the nation to drag the burdens of taxation and other onerous loads, while fettered by every species of unconscionable restrictions. Had the negro been invested with his sacred and inalienable rights when the almost uncurdled blood of the revolutionary sires were appealing for even-handed justice for all men, and Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and other far-seeing patriots were trembling with fear, at the prospective rupture that slavery was destined to breed in the nation, there would never have been any secession, any Southern Confederacy, any war; nor would the country to-day be groaning under the burdens of taxation, or the oscillations of an unsettled currency. And instead of the country being scarred and disfigured by war arsenals and forts, to-day the rose and magnolia of peace and harmony would be blooming in eternal juviniscents.

But I have strayed from the point. The Reconstruction Acts caused such a flutter amongst politicians, and so many technical points, constitutional clauses, legislative acts, and judicial decisions, were hurled at them, that Congress feared, as did thousands, that they might be, after all, a creature of time. Congress also had seen by this time the benificent working of them; that black men loved the government with all its faults; that untrammeled they would vote for its perpetuity and indivisibility; that they were as grateful for favors as any other people, and consequently must be a people and not monkeys. They had also seen that black men could represent a constituency, fill high positions, and in short, that they possessed all the virtues and vices of white men. These things, and the voices of God and reason, induced them to place this boon beyond the reach of the sacrilegious hand that might one day attempt to wring it from him. Besides, there were several Northern States whose constitutions debarred the negro from voting, notwithstanding the negro had rushed to arms when those States were beleagured and sacrificed himself upon their flaming altars in defense of their firesides and the green graves of their sires. Thus step by step the nation strode from January, 1863, when the immortal Lincoln issued his emancipation proclamation, and hades gaped, the ground trembled, Heaven rejoiced, and ten thousand times ten thousand shouts rent the skies. But there was one thing still needful. This grand superstructure, with its gigantic proportions, intended as a temple for humanity, had gradually rose higher and higher, its foundation was laid in the Thirteenth Amendment, and built up with the stone and cement of the Fourteenth, but the crowning capstone was to be found in something purer still. The Fifteenth Amendment was consequently proposed to the Constitution and received the required sanction of both houses of Congress. The ratification of three-fourths of the States then being necessary to make it a part of that instrument, it was accordingly sent to them, and, I am proud to inform you, that the requisite number gave their adhesion to make it the supreme law of the land. Gracias agamus Domino et deo nostro. To-day, all honor to Heaven, and thanks to the American people, we stand before the majesty of the law of the peers of any other class of citizens. America is redeemed. Our rights have been emancipated as well as our bodies and guaranteed by the breath of God’s approval. Our sum is no longer beclounded. Our atmosphere is no longer contaminated by the miasma of proscription. All men, regardless of race, color or previous servitude, can execute their will by the ballot, as lightning does the will of God. Thanks to the American, to the German, to the Irishman, and to every naturalized foreigner who aided in the work. May their lives be happy, may their deaths be precious.

There is an old legend which says that St. Patrick, many years ago, blessed the land of Ireland, and since then not a serpent has been known to crawl upon Irish soil, nor can one exist on the Erin Isle. The Fifteenth Amendment is the St. Patrick of this once accursed, but now blessed country. Never will another slave breathe the breath of life where the sovereignty of our country treads. It is the great peace-maker of a nation which for years has been rocked in the cradle of revolution and commotion. Never will there be another war to blast the glory of our country over the civil or political status of a race of people. The civil cruise of oil, and the political barrel of meal, shall never cease to yield a supply. The sun of prosperity, and the waxing moon of our national grandeur stood still, as in the days of Joshua, while our nation was warring with oppression, and battling for liberty. We have gained the prize; so now let them speed their way—the fight is over, and the victory is won. Let comets bear the tidings to distant worlds. And the sun beams transport the elated visage in photographic splendor of a free people to all planets in his vast domain. Tell the news to Mercury, to Venus, to Mars, to the Asteroids. bear it on Jupiter and Saturn. Whisper it in the ears of the Satelites. Celestial bells chime your music. Minstrelsy of the skies raise your notes. And thou, O, great organ of Heaven, lend them harmony. Let dying Saints, tell it to our fathers who prayed for this day but died without the sight, when they enter the portals of glory; speaking of its benefits per amnia seacula seaculorum.

I was reading this afternoon an ode on the Amendment, by Prof. Vashon. The following profoundly impressed me:

Enriched by heroes’ blood,

The trees the fathers planted now bear fruit,

The opposing forces to its spread are mute.

A human brotherhood

Finds now its sanction in a nation’s law,

Clothing with consecrated awe

All of its sons, whatever their race or creed.

God bless our Congress for its noble deed!

God bless the ratifying States!

Whatever of glory yet awaits

To bless them in the coming days,

Naught can be theirs to eclipse the praise

Already due,

For that they stood

With gallant hardihood,

Unto their fathers’ faith and grand profession true.

Where is the heart that can be emotionless and ungrateful while the muses are gushing forth sweeter pæans than ever greeted Apollo’s ears. Slavery left us so indigent that we did not know our names; we had none, except boy and gal, or fellow and wench. But civil liberty brings us not only John Do, but Rev. Mr. Do, Hon. Mr. Do, Dr. Do, Col. Do, and very soon I will trust will give some military hero the title of Gen. Do; while our females are rising, and have risen to the dignity of ladies.

This Amendment in as ensign of our citizenship, the prompter of our patriotism, the bandage that is the blind-fold Justice while his sturdy hands holds the scales and weighs out impartial equity to all, regardless of popular favor or censure. It is the ascending ladder for the obscure and ignoble to rise to glory and renown, the well of living water never to run dry, the glaring pillar of fire in the night of public commotion, and the mantling pillar of cloud by day to repel the scorching rays of wicked prejudice. Hereafter the machinery of our government will be run by the consent of the governed, and its symmetrical operations will constitute an axiomatic weapon, for all the oppressed nations on earth to battle with for civil liberty. It is a national guarantee, as fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. It is the chariot of fire that is to roll us beyond the reach of our persecuting Ahabs and perfidious Jezebels. It is to be the angel in the firey furnace warding off the burning flames. The golden debris from the high bluffs of this most pre-eminent country of all in the world, shall be washed by the currents of our sweet waters to the low lands of tyrant-ridden nations, to enrich their soil by spreading over them a free alluvium. The Fifteenth Amendment is the shining robe covering in immaculate grandeur the nude and exposed parts of our country, which hitherto made her fragile and vulnerable before enemies. It is the star-decked diadem covering her brow; the interjector of royal blood through every vein. It is the towering spire reaching uppermost of all national virtues, and will be like the pole to the needle, attracting men from every plain and every shore.

Our government to-day is the school-house of the world; here unborn children will come from distant climes to learn civil law and judicial equity, and will return to shake Kingdoms in the face of despots, and trample in the dust tottering thrones, and beat or grind Imperial maces to powder.

The noblest specimens of humanity in all countries were mysteriously planted here, by the husbandman of the Universe, for what purpose remained a mystery for ages. We saw an unparalleled interblending of races and colors here, but its purport was a secret. But having finished our national education and receiving our diploma, in the Fifteenth Amendment, we are now prepared to send blood-kin representatives to all nations, to preach equal rights and commence the work of republicanizing the world. The Englishman can return to England and while he may exclaim Long live Victoria, noble mother, affectionate wife, inestimable lady, a good citizen, generous neighbor, &c., yet he may omit “Queen,” in keeping with the instincts of his adopted country, and proceed to teach his brethren the transcendent advantages of republican institutions also, that equality of rights and parity of rank is the law of God, and ultimately must be the rule of nations.

The Irishman, frenchman, Chinaman, Japanese, the Hottentot, if he is here, can all return to their native lands and be to them what Wendell Phillips has been to his native land, “great reformers.” All nations will, sooner or later, have missionaries from here, of their own blood and dialect, preaching manhood equality.

The sons of Africa, too, can unfettered, untrammeled and unhindered, go to the homes of our forefathers and preach a free religious, civil and political gospel. I know some colored men chafe when they hear an expression about going to Africa. I am sorry I find no term in the vocabulary that will represent them milder than fool; for they are fools. The only reason why Africa is unpopular and ignored by some colored men is because of its unpopularity among th whites. It is the greatest country in natural resources under heaven. But without reviewing its inexhaustible treasures, and how God is holding them in custody for the civilization of the negro, I merely desire to remark that some of our leading men may blur and slur at Africa till their dooms-day arrives. But God intends for us to carry and spread enlightenment and civilization over that land. They are ours and we are theirs. Religion, morality, economy, policy, utility, expediency, duty and every other consideration makes it our business. We must, we shall, we will, we ought to do it.

The most famous King that ever sat upon the throne of Babylon, about twenty-five hundred years ago, had a dream, well known to every Bible reader. The Prophet Daniel was its interpreter. The dream consisted in seeing a huge statue or image, and if my recollection serves me rightly, its configuration was a head of gold; breast and arms silver; belly and thighs brass; legs and feet a mixture of iron and clay. This image symbolized or represented mighty kingdoms and powers, but a stone was cut out by God’s own manipulation which grew to the magnitude of a mountain. it smote the image, ground it to powder, and continued to enlarge till it filled the whole world. The metalic substances are supposed to symbolize Kingdoms, as just stated; but the stone, the miraculous advent, reign and triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ over his enemies, principalities and powers. But I do not believe, nor do I accept, this mystiferous and airified construction. Why secularize one and spiritualize the other? Daniel, the interpreter, emphatically says: “In the days of these Kings, (meaning the toe Kingdoms, growing out of the broken fragments of the old Roman Empire,) shall the God of Heaven set up a Kingdom,” &c. What can that mean but those petit and strong powers of Europe over which the Roman sceptre was once swayed; and when was the old Roman Empire in a state to represent its toe relation more than when the Declaration of Independence was first promulgated in this country? That stone, in my opinion, is the American Continent, cut out under God by the sleepless vigilance of Columbus’ discovery, had grown to a hill when she gained her independence, and is now a mountain by virtue of the Fifteenth Amendment; and that she will continue to increase till her republican institutions shall dethrone the monarchs of every clime and fill the world with equal rights, and emblazon upon the banners of all nations that truth which has defied despots and made monarchs tremble for near six thousand years: “God of one blood made the people of all nations.” Much has been said during the last ninety years about our Grand Republic, but until now it has been theoretical only. Let us go to work and practicalize our part of its mission, by seeking our own elevation and the elevation of our kindred. Let the Star Spangled Banner flaunt through every breeze and float over hill-top, while we, its sable defenders, shall glory in the principles it represents. Let earth and Heaven now join in the chorus and sing in symphonic strains, “The year of Jubilee is come, return ye ransom children home” to the embrace of a generous government; and then with louder notes swell the anthem, “Sound the loud timbrel over Egypt’s dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed, his people are free.”

As fire and music are incorruptible, so neither can this crowing law of our land ever be polluted to aught but manhood equality and manhood rights; the dream cherished by some that the time will come when this sacred section of our constitution will be nullified and made void, is a wild hallucination that will never be realized; but, to the contrary, every day will weave it more and more dear to the American people, while the rising youths will value it as the ornament to our country; the sons of its bitterest opponents will one day thrill thousands in its laudation. When the green turf shall mantle our graves, the history of this Amendment will be sought and read by millions as the noblest act of justice ever done a people. The posterity of its opposers will sit down with distorted brows and regret their fathers’ folly, and apologize for the crude ideas which influenced their ancestors.

Whatever distinction shall clothe the negro through any future day will be attributed to the workings of the Fifteenth Amendment, and he shall be the lily in the valley and as the rose of Sharon, in the high march of our national splendor. If ever Angels congratulated Saints, I fancy that Gabriel, the Arch Seraph, congratulated our heavenly trio, Columbus, Washington and Lincoln, on the day of its ratification, for the grand result of the Fifteenth Amendment and its concomitant blessings.

But I must close; to say more, unless better said, about our transcendent victory, would be to tarnish its grandeur. I wish I could congratulate ourselves on having aided, in a greater measure, the noble cause. poor Georgia is in the whirl-pool of commotion yet, we are still licking the file to make sleazy our tongues, in other words, darting straws against the wind, or straining at gnats and swallowing camels, and accomplishing no good under Heaven, saving making ourselves fools and going to hell.

Political jealousies and disappointed ambitions have given us more trouble than anything else, yes! more than all our opponents combined; though it has been peculiar to men in all ages to grow intensely bitter over blasted aspirations. Some of our ablest leaders, in other days, have caused a breach to be made in our ranks, which ought to be speedily remedied if such is in the province of human genius. Archimides did demand only a spot on which to stand to move the world, with sea and land, cried the ancients. The Christian on his bended knees is mightier than Archimides, responds the modernists. Is there no one mightier than the sages of reconstruction who can contend with our troubles and bring order out of our confusion and chaos? If there be, would that he could speedily be found; our troubled sea and contentious land-marks must be removed—the sooner the better.

In conclusion, let me say, let there be no more hostility between Democrats and Republicans about personal liberty and over human rights; let them bury the bone of contention and shake hands of greeting over the glorious result—a cosmopolitan nation.

Honor to the United States Congress!

Honor to the friends of Liberty!

All honor to the God of Justice!


Turner, Henry McNeal. A Speech on the Ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. The Henry McNeal Turner Project. (1870, April 19). http://www.thehenrymcnealturnerproject.org/2019/04/a-speech-on-ratification-of-fifteenth.html

National Colored Convention Speech

National Colored Convention Speech

Macon American Union: January 29, 1869

Gentlemen of the National Convention:

I do not regard this unexpected honor, so much as a compliment to my personal worth, as a recognition of the constant labors I have endeavored to perform for several years in the cause of equity and justice, and the acknowledgment of the intrinsic worth of my noble constituents in the State of Georgia.

No convention of colored men possessing such an army of talent and literary worth, ever met upon the American continent before. In its composition we have the inestimable pleasure of seeing the Minister, the Lawyer, the Doctor, the Statesman, the Artisan, the Farmer, indeed all the professions are represented, from College Presidents down to the commonest occupation.

To be ungrateful for such an honor would be an unpardonable crime. I shall endeavor to discharge the high duties of my office, as impartially as my abilities will enable me. You, I hope, will recognize the importance of being orderly, and exhibiting that high sense of characteristic dignity, which should always prevail in an intelligent assembly. Gentlemen will remember they are being watched by Congress, and the Nation. Your words are not merely to float off upon the wavy vibrations of the atmosphere, and thus be swallowed up, and lost in oblivion, but they are to be reiterated by the broad mouth of the public press and weighed in the scales of the public mind.

The cause for which we have met is more than noble; our object is divine, and God will crown it with success, sooner or later. Manhood rights is all we want, South, North, East and West. And it will not be long before the fossilized Democrats of this country, will see humanity recognized and clothed with all its God-given rights, kick and brawl as they may. The scepter of equity is but the sword of justice. And every man in America must acknowledge it as the mace of God, and Heaven’s thunder-bolt hurled against oppression.

Again thanking you for the honor conferred on me, in being selected to preside over your temporary deliberation, I wish to inquire the further pleasure of the Convention.


Turner, Henry McNeal. National Colored Convention Speech. The Henry McNeal Turner Project. (1869, January 29). http://www.thehenrymcnealturnerproject.org/2019/04/national-colored-convention-speech.html

The Eight Hour Work Day Bill

The Eight Hour Work Day Bill

Atlanta Constitution: September 9, 1869

Editor of the Constitution: The following is a part of a speech I was preparing to deliver before the Legislature, on my eight-hour bill, now pending before the House of Representatives. You will discover it is not more than half completed, several of my strongest points had not been reached. But when I learned that the House intended to override our Constitution, and vote me ineligible, I stopped the further preparation of my eight-hour defense, expecting not to be able to deliver it. But I submit these few thoughts to such as may wish to sustain the bill when it comes up. Though I doubt is either House is far enough advanced to consider this matter as it should be, and act upon it intelligently.

Very respectfully,

H. M. Turner

The Ineligible

-- --

Mr. Speaker: The bill before this House, which I had the honor of introducing a few days ago, may, from slight attention, appear to some gentlemen on this floor quite amusing, if not ridiculous. But I desire, in paving my way to a practical consideration of the subject, to state an already familiar fact, that this is an age of progress, an age of improvement, an age of great moral and political ideas; yes, may I not in candor say, the vanguard age of the world. For since the day when the umbrageous curtain of moral depravity…..to the appalment of earth and the astonishment of Heaven, man’s dimless intellectual faculties down to the present, no brighter day has ever dawned upon the world’s great drama than the one in which we live. The resources of the mind are contending with the blind fetters of stupidity and human genius clamors in the articulutive (sic) notes of all languages and tongues for releasement from the chains of ignorance. Thus, the crooked is being made straight and the hitherto rough is being made smooth, the wrongs of ages is being righted, and false notions though hoary with years, are hourly crashing to the ground, and vanishing like vapor before the rising sun.

The question under consideration may be considered a novel one in this State, if not in most of the Southern States, and yet, I assume that there is not a question now engrossing the attention of our public men of both, or either party, that embraces more truth, more facts, and more good solid reason why it should meet with universal sanction, than this seemingly trite and simple question, viz: “Shall a man work himself to death to live?”

I feel a confidence in the ultimate triumph of the measure incorporated in the bill now pending for discussion. Why? Because it is no new question, no utopian dream, no fanciful idea to lull the energies of the toiling masses. It is to-day, a grand national fact, embodied in the statute laws of our present enlightened Congress. In the first place, the passage of this bill is asked for as an experiment in our legislation. It ought, at least, to have a trial. It can do no harm, but may accomplish much good. The working men of the State ask for its passage, not so much as a peremptory rule, as the recognition of a principle. They feel as I know, that the labor of one-third part of a day, (or twenty-four hours, if you chose) ought to be sufficient to give daily bread, and keep the world industrially moving. They believe, fully that the experiment will not only result in their advantage, morally, socially, and intellectually…….but that the interest of capital, as represented by employers will be benefited in the end.

A very potent reason for the passage of this bill, is, that there may be a uniform standard through the State governing manual labor, and manufacturing employees. In most of the States, ten hours is regarded as a days work. But I find by consulting Irwin’s Code, that there is no ten-hour rule to apply even to our public works. Section 1873 most positively declares the hours of labor shall be “from sun rise to sunset,” except the time allowed for meals, with the boss may limit to his own discretion. And without impugning the honesty of the motives of the framers of the law, I am forced by every philosophic consideration to pronounce such a statute as brutal and as inimical to freedom and happiness of the laborer, as the worse forms of slavery ever were. Custom, however, in several districts of our State has, by common consent, fixed the hours of a day’s work, ranging respectfully from eleven to twelve, and from sunrise to sunset, and in the winter season from day dawn to night dawn. So adverse are these customs that in cases where a man has been engaged to work for another by the day, without a contract specifying the precise number of hours, he is obliged in the event of a controversy, to place experts on the stand to prove what is the usual practice in the locality where he has been employed. – This bill obviates the most onerous difficulty.

The law regulating the interest on money in cases where no specific rate has been agreed upon is in many respects analogous. The term of eight hours has been fixed upon, because while it is the national tenure of laboring hours, it is also the healthful or hygienic limitation of a day’s labor, wherever this rule is habitually violated or exceeded, the man’s life is shortened, and he suffers mentally and morally as well as physically. The demand for the laborer and mechanic not to be required to work more than eight hours each day, is supported by unerring instinct and by the weightiest consideration of expediency, justice and the hitherto premature decadency of humanity. I furthermore find myself sustained by a number of able writers and philosophers of unquestionable ability in this proposition. Cresy’s Encyclopedia of Civil Engineering, chap. ix. “ on Mechanical agents,” page 1087, has the following declaration, to-wit: “ By the term daily labor, is meant the work performed during twenty-four hours, the effective duration of which is only a portion of that time, the remainder being employed in rest and taking meals. Animals of all kinds require that their work should be moderate and regular, and the machine which the drive or put to motion should never call forth more exertion than is natural for them. The limit of this action is indicated by the lassitude which the mover evinces, and which may term the DAILY FATIGUE.”

Daniel Bernassali imagined that the degree of fatigue was always proportioned to the action which produced it so that whether the man was employed in walking, carrying a load, drawing or pushing, working at a windglass, or raising a weight, he always produced with the same degree of fatigue, the same quantity of action, and consequently, the same effect, and that the daily labor of a man estimated as raising 1, 72(6/8), 000 pounds one-foot high. This estimate would be equal to 60 pounds raised that height every second when his daily labor was eight hours only.

William J. Rankin McQuorne, Professor of Civil Engineering in the University of Glasco, in an able article contributed by him to the Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 14, page 417, says: “The mechanical daily duty of a man or beast is the product of three quantities – the effort, the velocity, the number of units of time per day during which work is continued. It is well known that for each individual man or animal, there is a certain set of valves of these three quantities, which make the product of a daily duty, a maximum, and that any departure from these valves diminishes the daily duty.” The article from which I am quoting, concludes thus: “The past time of working per day for man and all animals, is one third part of a day, or eight hours, a conclusion in accordance with tested experience.” This view is also adopted by a contributor to Appleton’s American Encyclopedia, Article Mechanic’s, vol. II, page 327. “A Man acting by muscular power or weight, and quadrupeds, are animate motors moving powers. The best continued practical working effect of animate motors is obtained when the working hours do not exceed one-third of the twenty-four.”

When…..performed by working men of mechanics, the average term of day labor is but eight hours. In demonstration of this assertion I will state that iron moulders in the State of New York, whose work is of this description, make eight hours the rule. In the mines of the Pacific coast, and the Sierras of that region, the mines far distant from physicians, and forced to adopt the best precautionary means for maintaining health, have, by common consent, agreed upon the eight-hour rule.

This fact, is warranted by the severest experience, led by the General Assembly of California in February, 1866, to pass the bill defining eight hours to be the period of a legal day’s work. In Australia, also, universal experience has led to the establishment of the same rule. But let us adduce a few examples: Elisha Burritt, the learned blacksmith of Worcester, Mass., assigned for himself the same time for labor, and around who brow clusters grander results for a measure or a habit pursued though a triumphant life. Chevaller Brunsen, of Germany, has also said that eight hours were sufficient for a day’s work.

The marching time for armies is also thus limited, from 12 to 17 miles being the distance made day by day; whenever forced marches are had, straining out by a most vigorous effort 40 or 50 miles a day. Long periods for rest and recuperation must ensue, or a large part of the army will be disabled by sickness. The Encyclopedia Britannica makes a similar declaration in respect to the progress made by caravans. It says, (see articles on caravans) from seven to eight hours a day seems to have become a usual day’s journey for caravans, so that, estimating the slow and unwieldy gait of a camel at two and half miles an hour, the average rate of travel would be from 17 to 20 miles a day. Tradition, if I may not call it reliable history, informs us that Solomon, when he was building the Temple of the Most High God, promulgated a decree for the men employed upon that great work to observe, as follows: “Eight hours shall be dedicated to labor, eight hours to rest, recreation, refreshment, and the worship of Jehovah, and eight hours for sleep.”

Let us next notice some of the customs in several of the European and Asiatic countries, which I will do as concisely and as pointedly as time will allow me. But before proceeding to this historical review, allow me to state that the framer of our beings never intended that man, under any circumstance, should wear and toil out every moment of his existence for a little bread to eat, and a few garments to cover his nudeness. This is a false idea handed down from one generation to another, by men who chief pride and ambition is to acquire wealth, though it be at the sacrifice of health and of life. If men would think more and work less, he would be bettered in all respects ten times more rapidly than it is. The trouble is, we absorbed the intellectual in the physical, instead of the physical in the intellectual.


Turner, Henry McNeal. The Eight Hour Work Day Bill. The Henry McNeal Turner Project. (1869, September 9). http://www.thehenrymcnealturnerproject.org/2019/04/the-eight-hour-work-day-bill.html

The Colored Men and the Draft

The Colored Men and the Draft

Christian Recorder: August 29,1863

*Shared by Thomas H.C. Hinton from the Washington National Republican, August 18, 1863, as recorded by a writer called "D."

I took occasion on Sunday morning to attend the Israel M. E. (colored) church, near the Capital, and hearing a sermon most appropriate to the times, by Rev. H. M. Turner, the pastor. I felt constrained to make a sketch of the same for publication, especially as some of the speaker’s thoughts, with reference to the people of his own color, are peculiarly happy at this time.

The speaker selected as a text, the following words: “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints; but let them not turn again to folly.”—85th Psalm, 8th verse.

These words, said the speaker, were written just after the children of Israel were delivered from the seventy years’ captivity in Babylon. Having felt the judgments of God, that people were now willing to hear what God would speak to them. They had suffered years of captivity with all its degradation, toil, and wo, and they were thus sufficiently humiliated to become willing to listen to God’s voice. In times of trouble we have many advisors. Some will tell you this will relieve you; others, that will relieve you. But no rule of conduct will give such success as God’s rules. None will lead in the right way, save the mighty word of God. We are prone to follow our own devices, but this is mixed with corruption, and leads us astray. Prone to wickedness, we love that which is false and wicked. Thus we waste our lives in this world instead of looking to God, and following his advice. Turn to God and hear what he had to say, and perfect peace will come.

God often sends affliction upon us for our good. Our sick beds, the death of our friends, and the affliction of our bodies are all designed to humble our pride and work for our highest good. So with national chastisements. This great and mighty nation has been full of wickedness. We are being punished. Bloodshed and all the horrors and devastations of war are abroad in the land. It is estimated that over 300,000 souls have gone down to dust during the war. Yet we have not reformed. We are not humbled. Our churches, both white and colored, are even more indifferent than ever amid this dire affliction, while thousands are going down so like grave and to eternal death. What is the matter? The voice of God has not been listened to. All our sorrows are the fruit of sin. We must repent. Individuals cannot be saved without repentance. Nations must repent. The high and mighty as well as the poorest must get down in the dust of humility and repentance before God, or they cannot be saved. We are all disposed to find fault with others, and blame them for our troubles. We are constantly pulling the mote our of our brother’s eye.

We must love our enemies. There is too much hatred in this land, and God will never deliver us while we cherish such hellish feelings. Look at this nation. We are hating each other. The dominant, or white race, are hating us, and abusing us, every opportunity, heaping upon our heads indignities of every kind, and even murdering in cold blood, as they did in New York. And we, in turn, have the same revengeful feeling toward the white race. Think you, my brethren, we can ever obtain the favor of God, with the blessings of peace as a nation, while he witnesses such murder in our hearts, as many of us now cherish? We have got to put away these abominations. It is the cause of our troubles. We have been cherishing the feeling of hatred, until we have gone to butchering each other by the thousands. We must love our enemies and pray for them which despitefully use and persecute us.

But an affliction has come upon us greater than all others. Many of our people are in mourning over the draft. He felt a wish to comfort them in this sorrow. Hearts of mothers, sisters, and friends were bowed in sadness. Has anything served to humble us more than this? We needed this affliction. The war has gone on for nearly three years, and our people have been enjoying it. Many have forgotten the church of God, and gone away to mix in sin, swearing, and breaking God’s holy day. He (Mr. T.) could speak freely of the draft, as he himself had been drafted. We, as colored people, have been praying for the dawn of this very day. We have even been shouting the year of jubilee, when liberty has been proclaimed to the captive. Just as our prayers are being answered, just as victory is dawning, just as God is about to deliver us, we hear the hoarse voice of murmuring and complaint. You are just like the people of Israel, who, though delivered by the wonderful power of God from Egyptian bondage, murmured at God and his servant Moses.

Shall we not take the bitter with the sweet? In all parts of this afflicted country families have been broken—fathers, husbands, and sons have been stricken down, and mourning and desolation have gone into thousands of families. But our race has been free from these afflictions. We have been rejoicing while the whole land has been mourning. Thousands of our people have tasted the precious sweets of freedom. The Colored Churches of this city, in all our meetings, have rung with our hallelujahs and our rejoicings over what God has done for our people. But a short time ago we were full of enthusiasm, and the very arches of heaven rang with our loud hurrahs in our war meetings. Now the scene is changed. Some of our people complain because they are compelled to go and help maintain and preserve our country. Some have even blamed your preacher and others, as the cause of your being drafted.

Am I the President of the United States! Can I go to the War Department and give orders! Or perhaps I went to Congress and they passed the enrollment act just to please me. I beg of you, my brethren, not to be so foolish. “Let them not turn again to folly.” He had been made sick when he heard his people, some of whom had themselves been made free by it, say they were opposed to the war! Why, Copperhead Seymour could say no more than that! Our people should all be in favor of the war until our race is free, God shall be honored, and the rebellion put down. Don’t grumble; if you do, you insult God and put an everlasting stain on your posterity. God will surely speak peace when His work, which this affliction is designed to produce, is accomplished. Then the millennium will dawn. Our race, that has been afflicted and down-trodden, shall then stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. For our little privations now, remember that thousands of our race will be free and enjoy their God-given rights. God is already doing more for us than we deserve. Instead, then, of fault-finding, go to Him with hearts of humility and gratitude. Praise Him for what He has done, and give your lives to His service.


Turner, Henry McNeal. The Colored Men and the Draft. The Henry McNeal Turner Project. (1863, August 29). http://www.thehenrymcnealturnerproject.org/2019/04/the-colored-men-and-draft.html

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