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In the House a resolution was introduced by Mr. Bingham, on the 9th of December, forbidding the imprisonment of fugitives or any claimed as fugitives in the county jail, and making any such imprisonment a misdemeanor. It was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary; but it was never reported, and the House took no action upon the subject. But the exposure of the shameful condition of affairs brought redress and reform, the executive department of the government taking the matter in hand.
Among those who had gained the most unenviable reputation for his superserviceable zeal in behalf of the slavemasters was Marshal Lamon. In the absence of any legislative action for the abatement of these abuses, the President asserted his authority, and on the 25th of January, 1862, the Secretary of State addressed to the marshal an order, informing him that the President, being satisfied that by so doing he should "contravene no law in force in the District," instructed him not to "receive into custody any persons claimed to be held to service or labor within the District or elsewhere, not charged with any crime or misdemeanor, unless upon arrest or commitment pursuant to law"; and that those thus arrested were not to be detained more than thirty days, "unless by special order of competent civil authority."
But the infamous black code and the horrible condition of its jail were not the only evidences of slavery and of its doings at the capital of the nation. An army of more than three thousand colored children and youth, growing up in enforced ignorance and vice, presented a picture not only dark and revolting in itself, but made blacker and more hideous by the background of injustice and meanness it bespoke in the white population, who not only refused to make provision for their education, but took and appropriated nearly four thousand dollars from taxes paid by the colored population for the support of schools from which their own children were excluded. Nor was this a sin of ignorance. The victims had friends, though few, yet sufficient in numbers and earnest in purpose, to remind Congress of this unjustifiable and unmanly policy.
Among the efforts which were early made, after the secession of the Southern members, to reform these abuses and to relieve the government of its guilty remissness toward the colored people, was a bill, introduced into the Senate by Mr. Grimes on the 29th of April, 1862, to provide for the educa tion of colored children in the city of Washington. Explaining the bill and its provisions, he recited the facts, and stated its purpose to be an enactment that the tax levied on the prop erty of colored persons should be used exclusively in the edu cation of colored children. The bill was amended and became the subject of debate. As amended, it made it the duty of the municipal authorities of Washington and Georgetown to set apart ten per cent of the taxes paid by the colored people, for the purpose of initiating a system of primary schools for the education of colored children. This, with such sums as might be contributed by benevolent persons for the same purpose, was to be expended and controlled by the board of trustees of public schools. As amended, it was passed by a vote of twenty-nine to seven. In the House it was passed without amendment, debate, or division, and was approved by the President on the 21st of May, 1862.
A few weeks later Mr. Lovejoy of Illinois introduced a bill, supplementary to the one already passed concerning the schools for the education of colored children in the cities of Washington and Georgetown, by which the duties imposed upon the board of trustees by that act should be transferred to a new board of three, whose names were inserted, "and their successors," who should have the same powers and duties in regard to the colored children which belonged to the trustees of the public schools in those cities. The bill was passed in both houses withont division.
On the 17th of February, 1863, Mr. Wilson introduced a bill into the Senate to incorporate "the institution for the education of colored youth," to be located in the District of Columbia. This institution was the outgrowth of Miss Miner's school for girls, which, from small beginnings, by her unwearied labors, aided by the countenance and gifts of sympa thizing friends and patrons, had achieved so much of success
and gave such promise of further usefulness as to both demand and merit this recognition of the general government. It was referred, reported without amendment, and on the 27th was made the subject of debate. But, like every subject in which the interests of the colored people were involved, it gave occasion to Southern members to vent their spleen and to show their inhumanity. Mr. Carlile of Virginia petulantly and spitefully asked whether "these negroes cannot be educated without an act of incorporation." He declared, too, that he could not "see any very good reason why the government of the United States should enter upon the scheme of educating negroes." Referring to the general assumption in the free States that education should accompany the right of suffrage, he said loftily, and with a supercilious sneer, that he presumed "we have not reached the point where it is proposed to elevate to the condition of voters the negroes of the land." He discarded, too, the principle of all government aid for schools, contending that the education of the rising generation should be left to parental support and care. Mr. Davis of Kentucky coupled his opposition with ridicule, and expressed his apprehension "that if the subject of negroes is handled much longer in the Senate there is very great danger that some Senators would be turned to negroes."
In response, however, to these arguments and appeals, sneers and insinuations, Republican members answered with becoming dignity and point. "I thank God," said Mr. Grimes, "that I was raised in a section of the country where there are nobler and loftier sentiments entertained in regard to education." Saying that those he represented believed that all human beings were "accountable," that every man should be able to read the law by which he is governed, should be able to "read the Word of God, by which he should guide his steps in this life and shall be judged in the life to come," he added that they believed in education "to elevate the human race," and to "keep our jails and our penitentiaries and our almshouses free from inmates."
Mr. Morrill of Maine, expressing his great surprise that "the Senator from Virginia puts his opposition upon the
ground of a protest against public education," pronounced an appreciative and glowing eulogium upon the region of country he represented, where public education was regarded as "the first great duty of the State, to be religiously performed"; and he declared it to be the glory of New England that her system of instruction gave an education "to every child, no matter whether he is high or low born"; that it enjoined "it upon the people of every town and city to educate every child without regard to color or complexion "; and that "the negro, in that regard, stands on an equal footing with every other child in the State." The bill was then passed by a vote of twenty-nine to nine. It was passed in the House without amendment or debate, and was approved by the President on the 3d of March, 1863.
On the 18th of February, 1864, on motion of Mr. Grimes, the Senate proceeded to the consideration of his bill to provide for the public instruction of youth throughout the whole county of Washington. The committee reported an amendment in the form of a substitute, to establish a public school system for the county; authorizing the Levy Court to assess a tax of one eighth of one per cent on all the taxable property of colored inhabitants, for the purpose of initiating a system of education for colored children. The bill, as thus amended, passed without a division.
When the bill came up in the House, Mr. Patterson of New Hampshire, from the committee to which it was referred, offered an amendment with a proviso. By the latter, provision was made for separate schools for colored children. In explaining the bill and its provisions, Mr. Patterson said, we have recommended that such a proportion of the entire school fund should be set apart for colored children between the ages of six and seventeen, as they bear to the whole number of chil dren in the county. "We may have differences of opinion in regard to the proper policy to be pursued in respect to slavery; but we all concur in this, that we have been brought to a juncture in our national affairs in which four millions of a degraded race, lying far below the average civilization of the age, and depressed by an almost universal prejudice, are to be
set free in our midst. The question now is, What is our first duty in regard to them? . . . . I think there can be no difference of opinion on this, that it is our duty to give to this people the means of education, that they may be prepared for all the privileges which we may desire to give them hereafter."
The Senate accepted the House amendment and passed the bill. It received the President's signature on the 25th of June, 1864. By this enactment nearly four thousand children, instead of living in enforced ignorance, with no provision for their education, compelled to stand by and see those with lighter complexion, and because of that complexion, attending schools from which they were excluded, though supported, in part at least, from taxes paid by their own parents, were advanced at once to the same privileges and permitted to claim by law what had been for generations so wickedly and so meanly withheld.