Less than ten years ago the streets of your city witnessed an attack made by some of your citizens upon the first volunteers to defend the cause of the integrity of the nation against the assaults of those who held four millions of their fellow beings in bondage. Less than seven years ago the colored man had undre what was recognized as the law of the United States, no rights which a white man was bound to respect. Today that man stands up politically the peer of his former master. Then, to teach a colored man the alphabet was a crime in many of the States of this Union. Today education walks hand in hand with liberty, and school houses and churches everywhere urge him on the road to learning and virtue. [Applause.] Then the wife of his bosom and the children of his loins were but the chattels which might at any day be sold to pay his master's debts, today they are the precious and inviolable members of the most sacred of associations, the family. [Applause.] Then the labor of his hands, the sweat of his brow went to fill hands which seldom knew toil to adorn brows which knew no sweat. Now that labor is hallowed and sweetened by the thought that it is for the present and future needs of the loved ones at home. [Applause.] Then his highest hope was to rest on the humblest of pallets after the hard toil exacted by the taskmaster. Now he can hope not only for comfort and competence, but to be one of the instruments honored by God in the advancement of the interests of his race and his nation. [Applause.]
A mighty revolution indeed! Well may the colored people meet to celebrate the ratification of that Amendment which is the capstone of this grand structure of the Constitution and of human liberty. [Applause] Well may the white men join them in exultation at the thought that they have been permitted by the Providence of God to be instrumental in such a work. [Applause.]
But the business of the hour is not only exultation over the good that has been achieved. It is also reflection on the good that remains to be done. To give a man the opportunity for development, to admit him to the race of life free and untrammelled, to open up to him an avenue of usefulness and honor to break down the barriers which keep him away from a man's work. ALl this is grand and noble. [Applause.] But it must be remembered by all those who have had this done that the great work is only just begun for them. It remains for them to show that, the opportunity given, they will embrace it, the race open they will run it, the avenue clear, they will pursue it, to the end that, as free men, they will also become true men, loyal men, and good citizens [cheers], that instead of having simply a numerical addition to the nation, they will become a tower of strength to it, that they will add to the nation's wealth, to the nation's virtue, to the nation's glory. [Applause.] This can only be done by the determination to become industrious, honest, faithful, educated citizens, men observant of the laws, tenderly respectful of the rights of others and careful of their own rights. [Applause.] The white man's power lies in his knowledge and in his virtue. The colored man can obtain power only by obtaining knowledge and virtue. The ballot can only be valuable to him when he uses it in the interest of the true, the just, the right. [Applause.] It can only be valuable to society when so used. And it behooves the colored man now enfranchised to so use the power placed in his hands as to justify the nation in the sacrifices it has made to give him that power. [Applause.] Let it not be said by the future historian that after all this great struggle, after all this lavish espense of treasure, after all this shedding of blood, after all the wails and moans of widows and orphans, the race which has been by them raised to citizenship has proved unworthy the trust imposed upon them.
I have no fears on this point. [Applause.] My experience justifies me in saying that the strides in culture made by the colored people of this country in the last few years are proof that they will make a class of citizens of whom a nation may be justly proud. [Applause.] That they may be instrumental in redeeming this old State from the rule of a party which rules it in the interest of the few rather than in that of the many, I sincerely hope and believe. [Cheers.]