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(1875) Congressman John R. Lynch, “Speech on the Civil Rights Bill”

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Born enslaved in Louisiana in 1847, John Roy Lynch eventually served as a U.S. Congressman from Mississippi from 1873 to 1877 and during an abbreviated term of one year in 1882-1883. Prior to his term in Congress he had served as Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives. An active Republican, Lynch served in various Party capacities in Mississippi and Washington, D.C. until 1911. In 1912, he moved to Chicago where he practiced law until his death in 1939. In the speech below Representative Lynch argues his support for the Civil Rights Bill then under debate in Congress.

Mr. Speaker, I was not particularly anxious to take part in this debate, and would not have done so but for the fact that this bill has created a great deal of discussion both in and outside of the halls of Congress. In order to answer successfully the arguments that have been made against the bill, I deem it necessary, if my time will allow me to do so, to discuss the question from three standpoints--legal, social, and political. I confess, Mr. Speaker, that it is with hesitancy that I shall attempt to make a few remarks upon the legal question involved; not that I entertain any doubts as to the constitutionality of the pending bill, but because that branch of the subject has been so ably, successfully, and satisfactorily discussed by other gentlemen who have spoken in the affirmative of the question. The importance of the subject, however, is my apology to the House for submitting a few remarks upon this point in addition to what has already been said.

It is a fact well known by those who are at all familiar with the history of our Government that the great question of State rights—absolute State sovereignty as understood by the Calhoun school of politicians--has been a continuous source of political agitation for a great many years. In fact, for a number of years anterior to the rebellion this was the chief topic of political discussion. It continued to agitate the public mind from year to year and from

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