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(1871) Congressman Robert C. DeLarge, “Speech on the Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment”

Robert Carlos DeLarge served as a Republican member of the U.S. Congress less than a full term. He was elected in 1870 and began his term on March 4, 1871. However he left Congress on January 24, 1873 within two months of the completion of his term when the seat was declared vacant as the result of an election challenge initiated by Christopher C. Bowen, his Democratic opponent. After he left Congress DeLarge served as a local magistrate until his death in Charleston on February 14, 1874. One of DeLarge’s speeches appears below. Here he calls for the enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees citizenship to all African Americans while defending his fellow black South Carolinians against the charge of supporting a fiscally irresponsible government.

Mr. Speaker: I had supposed that in the consideration of this matter of legislation for the South party lines would not have been so distinctly drawn, but that we would have at least first endeavored to ascertain whether or no there was any necessity for the legislation, and then decide what kind of legislation would be best. I say I did not expect that party lines would be drawn so distinctly while considering a matter of such grave import.

I believe that if there was a single gentleman upon the floor of this House who, before the commencement of this debate, doubted that lawlessness, confusion, and anarchy existed in some portions of the South, he is at least cured of that doubt by this time. Gentlemen upon both sides of the House have in their speeches acknowledged, and, by the evidence produced, proven to my satisfaction, and, I believe, to the satisfaction of a majority of the members of this House, that such a state of affairs does exist in some portions of the southern states.

I am free to say that none can bring the charge to my door of ever having acted in a manner that would be termed illiberal. I am also free to say that I, like other gentlemen upon the floor of this House, have the honor of representing a district in which