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Friday, April 14, 2006

A Taste of History

Speech by Tom Littlebottom, to the Assembly:

I rise in this house, to defend my honor. The gentlemen across the aisle would slanderously mark me a bigot; it is an insinuation I will not abide. I judge men by their nature and by their actions, not by their color.

Ten years ago, I authored legislation that ended new slavery in our state. Seven years ago, I voted to make free men of all slave children and to pay to have them taught to read and write. Today, our state has more free negros than any other in the land. I am proud to be part of that heritage. Each and everyone of us is proud to employ free negros in our homes and in our fields. We all hope for a future when all negros in our state will be declared free.

Mr. Knight speaks of bigotry in my county, while he resides far away in Sasquewecha, where the problem of negro encroachment is unknown. It is easy to talk high and mighty about an abstraction when one does not have to witness its consequences. Has Mr. Knight seen the settlements our city governments bought and developed, outside our towns, so that our free servants could set up decent homes, and live like children of God? We may not have built grand avenues for them, nor the best schools, but it is not our job to provide them with wealth, only with a leg up in life.

The bill before us does not hurt negros, because it does not take away anything they already have. The bill puts some restrictions on their actions, but these are to protect the rights and property of others. This is the purpose of government -- to protect rights. It seems to me that a bill that protects the rights of some while not taking anything away from others should garner support from all.

Our county helps the poor of all color, white and black. We run a hospital where the indigent are treated. We feed the poor. Our schools are free. We are a generous county. We help our friends and neighbors; but, we do not have the means to help every poor person in the world.

In the last few years, many of our farmers have rented to negro tenants, free-men who wanted to live closer to where they worked. We helped them build their church. We built a school for the children of negros. We built a dispensary for them. We have a hospital ward for them. We have not shrunk from our duties.

Yet, we now seek to stop this practice, to take a breather. Each farmer who rents to these tenants sees only his monthly rent. The extra taxes to pay for schools and hospitals for the negros fall only slightly on him; but those taxes fall on all of us, who do not share in his rent. Can we be asked to shoulder this ever increasing burden? We do not seek to void any existing tenancy; all we ask is to prohibit more negros from being tenants in certain areas. We are not taking away any tenancy that they already have, we are not taking away any rent a farmer is earning now; so, what rights are we denying? None.

Some have said we should make everyone pay their way, both white and negro. This is a laudable sentiment, but I know none in this house who would vote to deny schools and medicine to the poorest in our midst, both white and negro who live among us. So, what is the point of such idealism? What is the value of a principle that will not be practiced in our time? The only sensible way, for now, is to pause the encroachment of the more negros.

History will be my judge.

Well, how would history judge this speaker?


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