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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Joseph Rainey and the Amnesty Act of 1872

I've come across a fascinating speech. In 1872, Congress was debating amnesty from Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment for many former Confederates. A proposal was made to amend the amnesty bill and add a strong civil rights measure. Democrats opposed the civil rights amendment, but without the amendment amnesty might not have passed the House of Representatives due to opposition from Republican members who were African-American.

On May 13, 1872, Congressman Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, a former slave, rose to speak on the amnesty bill. You can find the speech at pp. 3382-3383 of the Congressional Globe for the 2nd Session of the Forty-Second Congress. Here is part of what Rainey said in support of amnesty without conditions:

"We are desirous, sir, of being magnanimous; it may be that we are so to a fault; nevertheless, we have open and frank hearts toward those who were our former oppressors and taskmasters. We foster no enmity now, and we desire to foster none for their acts in the past to us, nor to the Government we love so well . . . We now invoke you, gentlemen, to show the same magnanimity and kindly feeling toward us--a race long oppressed; and in demonstration of this humane and just feeling give, I implore you, give support to the civil rights bill, which we have been asking at your hands, lo these many days. . . . I need not say to you that we fought for the maintenance of the Government while those who are about to be amnestied fought to destroy it."

Rainey served in Congress for four terms and led a rather remarkable life (including an escape from the Confederate Army during the Civil War.) He's worth further study.


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