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Cardinal Gibbons' Letter

Archdiocese of Baltimore
Chancery Office
408 North Charles Street
March 9, 1904.

RE: Rev. George F. Bragg, D. D.,
Rector of St. James P. E. Church,
Baltimore, Maryland

Dear Sir:

In reply to your letter of yesterday, I hasten to say that the introduction of the "Jim-Crow" bill into the Maryland Legislature is very distressing to me. Such a measure must of necessity engender very bitter feelings in the Colored People against the Whites. Peace and harmony can never 'exist where there is unjust discrimination, and what the members of every community must constantly strive for is peace. Especially now, in the hour of our affliction. While calamity and disaster are frowning upon our city, mutual helpfulness should be the common endeavor and no action should be lightly taken which would precipitate enmities, strife and acrimonious feelings. The duty of every man is to lighten the burdens that weigh heavily upon his neighbor to the full extent of his power. It is equally the duty of every member of a community to avoid any action which is calculated to make hard and bitter the lot of a less fortunate race.

Furthermore, it would be most injudicious to make the whole race suffer for the delinquencies of a few individuals, to visit upon thousands who are innocent, that punishment and chastisement which should be meted out to the guilty alone.

Faithfully yours,
James Card. Gibbons

Mr. Bonaparte's Letter

Baltimore, February 29, 1904
Rev. George F. Bragg, Jr.
1133 Park Avenue, City

My Dear Sir:

As I explained to you, I shall be prevented by imperative engagements from addressing the meeting to-morrow even-ing. I am happy to comply with your suggestion that I give in a letter my views as to the proposed amendments to the Constitution of this State, and as to a proper and judicious course for our colored citizens in resisting these measures.

I must own that I heard with anxiety of the intended meeting, for although a temperate and manly protest on your part against this legislation is eminently suitable, excited or ill-considered language might readily inflame the prejudices on which its advocates rely to secure its adoption by the General Assembly and ratification by popular vote. On this question you must appeal in last resort to the jus-tice,' patriotism, and sound sense of your white fellow citizens; irritating language or injudicious behavior must weaken the force of your appeal.

I have hoped that the great calamity which has overtaken our city, and the consequent necessity for a hearty co-operation on the part of all classes of the population and men of all parties and opinions, in repairing its losses, might induce our Legislature to abandon, or at least adjourn, projects designed to gain mere partisan advantage and certain to revive political animosities. A time when Maryland seeks most of all to attract capital from her progressive and prosperous sister States of the North, to raise from its ashes the business section of her principal City, seems ill-suited for legislation animated by such a spirit and designed for such ends.

If, however, this hope be disappointed, I think we may still await, with some confidence the verdict of the people on the measures in 1905. For such confidence I find two weighty reasons. In the first place, I believe that Maryland is essentially a genuine American commonwealth. When Voltaire said: "He who serves his country well needs no grandfathers," he put in words the underlying principle of our American institutions. True Americans do not ask what sort of a grandfather a man had, but what sort of a man he is himself; and a proposition to make a man's right to vote depend on whether his grandfather voted is almost the last which I should expect a truly American community to approve at the polls.

Moreover, I believe the people of Maryland to be a loyal community, recognizing its duties as one of the States of this great Union to faithfully obey in letter and spirit the Federal Constitution. Every member of our General Assembly has promised under oath to "support the Constitution of the United States." I do not think our people will deliberately hold that promise to have been kept as an honorable and conscientious man should keep it, by one who has been racking his brain to devise some plan whereby the Constitution of the United States may be disobeyed with impunity. It must be remembered that the question involved in the adoption or the rejection of the proposed amendments is, not whether the suffrage should be restricted, but whether it should be restricted impartially. If it pleases the people to exclude from the elective franchise criminals or paupers or illiterates, no one questions the right to do this; at most, it is a question of expediency. But whatever the restrictions imposed, they should be the same for all citizens; there should not be one law for white men, and another law for black men, one law for Americans of two generations and another law for Americans of three.

There is one consideration in connection with this important matter to which I would direct the special attention of all colored men. The proposed amendments cannot become a part of our State Constitution until after the general election in November, 1905, and their provisions will not become practically effective as limiting the suffrage before, at the earliest, May, 1906. The colored citizens of Maryland have therefore more than two years in which to fit themselves for the tests which these amendments impose.

Within two years it ought to be possible for many, I will not say for all, of those who might now be excluded by such tests from the elective franchise to become qualified to exercise it. Night schools should be provided in most parts of the State for illiterates willing to make the sacrifice of time and labor needed to retain their political rights; and it were well if every citizen of the State should acquaint himself with the provisions of our State Constitution. I doubt whether one in one thousand of the white inhabitants of Maryland has ever read its Constitution. If colored men devote the next two years to its study they may perhaps help their white neighbors to give "a reasonable interpretation" of its provisions to the Officers of Registration. I remain, my dear Sir,

Yours very respectfully and truly,
Charles J. Bonaparte.

 Maryland Biographies | Maryland AHGP

Source: Gazetteer of Maryland, by Henry Gannett, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904.

 

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