"What the Black Man Wants"
by Frederick Douglass
Excerpt of Speech Given at the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston, April, 1865
It may be asked, "Why do you want it? Some men have got along very well
without it. Women have not this right." Shall we justify one wrong by another?
This is the sufficient answer. Shall we at this moment justify the deprivation
of the Negro of the right to vote, because some one else is deprived of that
I hold that women, as well as men, have the right to vote [applause],
and my heart and voice go with the movement to extend suffrage to woman; but
that question rests upon another basis than which our right rests.
We may be
asked, I say, why we want it. I will tell you why we want it. We want it because
it is our right, first of all. No class of men can, without insulting their
own nature, be content with any deprivation of their rights. We want it again,
a means for educating our race. Men are so constituted that they derive their
conviction of their own possibilities largely by the estimate formed of them
by others. If nothing is expected of a people, that people will find it difficult
to contradict that expectation. By depriving us of suffrage, you affirm our
incapacity to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public
declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise,
and by this means lead us to undervalue ourselves, to put a low estimate upon
ourselves, and to feel that we have no possibilities like other men.
I want the elective franchise, for one, as a colored man, because ours is a
government, based upon a peculiar idea, and that idea is universal suffrage.
If I were in a monarchial government, or an autocratic or aristocratic government,
where the few bore rule and the many were subject, there would be no special
stigma resting upon me, because I did not exercise the elective franchise.
It would do me no great violence. Mingling with the mass I should partake of
strength of the mass; I should be supported by the mass, and I should have
the same incentives to endeavor with the mass of my fellow-men; it would be
burden, no particular deprivation; but here where universal suffrage is the
rule, where that is the fundamental idea of the Government, to rule us out
is to make
us an exception, to brand us with the stigma of inferiority, and to invite
to our heads the missiles of those about us; therefore, I want the franchise
the black man.
Read the entire speech and other writing by abolitionist and newspaper
editor Frederick Douglass at frederickdouglass.org.