How the 15th Amendment was Ratified
Daniel W. Voorhees

But, Mr. Speaker, there is one new feature in the proposed measure which has fastened itself upon it like a guilty parasite of power since this movement was launched. One more condition has been attached to the existence of a State. Party necessity, which drives with a hard whip and goads forward its devotees with a sharp and cruel spur, here describes that Georgia shall ratify the fifteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States. It is not enought that she, by her own laws, has been compelled to permit the negro to vote and hold office, but she must submit to become the tool of unscrupulous politicians who are seeking to force negro suffrage upon States and constituencies that are opposed to it.

Before Georgia can be taken by the hand as within the Union, under this bill, she must first consent to assist in breaking down the popular will of many other States. A fierce dread is upon the minds of political leaders in regard to the fate of this favorite amendment. We saw distinguished gentlemen at the last session, whose States overwhelmingly repudiate it, coercing Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas into its adoption. But the coercion stops not with them. I here proclaim on this floor, and in the hearing of all my colleagues who support this measure and this administration, that there is a popular majority in Indiana against negro suffrage of one hundred thousand votes. Poor manacled and chained Georgia is driven like a slave to assist in subverting this vast majority of the free people of Indiana. Other States, the oldest of the Union, have been forced on the peril of their lives to put their shoulders to the infamous task. One more is needed to overturn the constitution and the laws of the State which I in part represent, and this odious bill drags forward another reluctant agent of tyranny, wrong, and revolution.

A few days since a communication from the Secretary of State was read at our desk, announcing the States which have ratified the fifteenth amendment. I heard with amazement the name of Indiana in the list. Could I have obtained the floor, I would then have denounced the statement as untrue, and the imputation unjust and slanderous to the people of that State. There is no party there in favor of it beyond the desperate leaders who receive their commands from this Capitol. We have our own local constitution on the subject of suffrage, and with it we are content. It was ratified by nearly the whole people, irrespective of party, within the last twenty years. No one has asked for a change.

In the canvass before the people in 1868, it was incessantly proclaimed by all my colleagues on the opposite side of the House, and by both senators from Indiana, that negro suffrage was not to be forced upon Northern States; that the will of the the people of such States was to be respected, and that the tyranny of federal coercion was only to be exercised on the down-trodden plains of the the South. How soon the usurpation has spread! How rapidly the contempt for popular government has enlarged its boundaries! Indiana is to bow her bright head to the dust. It is not her own act that humiliates her. She has not ratified this degradation. At the proper time I will demonstrate that the action of a mob could as well place a provision in the constitution of the United States as the action of a few lawless members of the legislature, who were afraid to meet their constituents on this issue. I will hold up to scorn the wretched desperation of party despotism in Indiana. But well knowing, as all men do, that Indiana will never, of her own free will, accept the political partnership of the negro, one of her senators has been conspicuous by his efforts to rivet the chain upon her by enforced action of other States. He marshals Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, and now Georgia, into line as slaves, and with a lash in his hand over them, he commands them to apply the lash to the naked back of his own State. Section 8 of this bill is the scourge prepared by him for his own constituency. He holds Georgia by the throat, and promises her deliverance only upon the condition that she will commit a political felony upon the citizens of Indiana, The senator himself, with his acknowledged high ability, can not persuade or compel the people of his State to accept negro suffrage. He therefore finds four helpless, gasping, dying commonwealths, in the desolated regions of the rebellion, and goads them by the sharp and merciless necessities of mortal extremity to assume the revolting task of forcing odious laws on an unwilling people. It would hardly be less consistent with a generous nature to tempt a starving man with a morsel of bread to commit a larceny, than is such a course of legislation as we find here with the great and lofty attributes of a true statesmanship. It is the very deparvity of party; it is the legerdemain of low politics by which to cheat the people out of their dearest birthright.

Sir, I have ever aimed to stand by the people in every encroachment upon their rights. I do so now. This bill is a vast stride of power. It crushes States wherever it goes; it binds Georgia again in fetters, but reaches beyond her borders; it comes with its malignant spirit of force and overturns the institutions of that noble people whom I represent. In their name, I denounce its approach; in their name, I record my vote against it. It is their right to make and maintain a constitution for themselves. This right is stricken down by this bill. Georgia is forced to become the executioner of the liberites of my constituents. They are not in favor of the fifteenth amendment. I speak now for the men of both parties. Yet the eighth section of this bill makes Georgia enforce it upon them, and this section was drawn by the senator from Indiana [Mr. Morton]. It is not the right of a negro to vote that is here involved; it is the right of white men that is here taken away. The section is here for the purpose of depriving the voters of Indiana of their free expression upon a great question of fundamental constitutional law. It makes up the issue. With full faith in the capacity of the people of Indiana to judge correctly and to decide intelligently between the friends and enemies of popular liberty within her borders, I remit this issue to them.


Speeches of Daniel W. Voorhees of Indiana compiled by his son Charles S. Voorhees with a Short Biographical Sketch, pages 324-327
A speech delivered in the House of Representatives, December 21, 1869, on a "Bill to promote the reconstruction of the State of Georgia"
Robert Clarke & Company, Cinicinnati, 1875