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Clarence Velasco
Dr. Monroe
History of US Since 1865 HI 204/ IN 250
Analysis and Reaction to Congressman Richard Cains Speech
The 1874 speech given by Richard Harvey Cain entitled All We Ask is Equal Laws,

Equal Legislation and Equal Rights provides both a persuasive, powerful cry for black equality

at the twilight of the Reconstruction period and a testament to how the United States government

failed to cement rights that were not fully earned until decades later. Richard Harvey Cain was a

black Republican in the South during a period where Southern Democrats were supreme, and

violence towards suppressing the black political equality by vigilante white supremacist groups

was common. The fact that he gave such a speech would be considered inflammatory and

dangerous for his own person; however, Cain recognized the gravity of the situation, and he

believed that people fighting in Congress could result in equal rights for black Americans. The

speech is broken up into two major sections: the first half of the speech is a refutation of the

objections to passing the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and the second half of the speech is Cain

outlining his beliefs on why he believed that African Americans are deserving and should push

for equal legislation and rights. This speech embodied the philosophy of W.E.B Du Bois and

black achievement in the face of adversity with its fight against the status quo and raising of

social justice issues.

Cains central problem was that African Americans were not receiving equal rights and

his way of dealing with the problem was to refute his opponents objections to the bill and to

convince people to get behind it. Richard Harvey Cains early argument was based around

refuting Mr. Vances objections on the unconstitutional nature of passing the civil rights bill

unchanged. Mr. Vance argued that the this civil rights bill attempted to legislate social rights for
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African Americans, and that doing that would be bad for everyone as it would stir up more

animosity between whites and blacks. Cain, who recognized that social equality cannot be

legislated, responded that all this bill did was guarantee equal opportunity for African Americans.

Mr. Vance argued that North Carolina did not, and that African Americans were free to enjoy

things like highways, railroad cars, and equal rights. Cain countered that this was not the case,

and that you would need to be black to see the discrimination. Vances next argument was that if

black men pushed for equal legislation and rights white Southerners would dislike African

Americans more losing their friendship. Cain argued that if they were truly friends of African

Americans they would want them to have equal rights under law. Cain believed that the

friendship of Southerners would not be lost because of equal rights. White Southerners who were

educated and subsequently made more money would be more supportive than whites who were

less educated and were lower on the social scale. Cain was quite clever in the framing of his

argument. He knew that all people ultimately act in their own self-interest, and that African

Americans getting equal rights would be in everyones best interest to improve the South. Vance

saw the integration of South Carolina University as showing that equal rights were bad; Cain

countered that only a few students left and that white and black students were now successful

getting along. Vance believed that passing the bill would lead to antagonism between whites and

blacks, yet Cain argued that the more educated, wealthy Southerners recognized that black

equality would lead to economic prosperity for all and therefore no antagonism would arise.

Cain stated his reasons for why African Americans need and deserved political equality.

Cains first argument for this was that African Americans in the North have been able to integrate

and assimilate into their education system. Cain asked why cant African Americans do the same

thing in the South. Cains second argument was that the time for blacks seeking equal rights had
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comes as the progressiveness of the era had. We saw this with African Americans in the North

and the new immigrants that were granted rights greater than the African Americans in the South.

Cains third argument was that blacks have been the ones who formed the backbone of the

country. Black Americans have been here since the beginning as it was their labor and hard work

that resulted in the United States becoming prosperous. African Americans because they have

been exploited for so long deserved equal rights. Cains fourth argument for the passage of the

bill was that education of the black race was important to their prosperity as well as white

Americans. Unequal education of black and white students was why this civil rights bill should

be passed now as black students were being continually excluded from schooling. The next

argument put forth by Cain was that Southern Democrats would not concede to amendments that

would protect black equality. They instead tried to get rid of current amendments that attempted

to do the same thing. The passage of the bill was the only way to secure equal laws, equal rights,

and no discrimination for everyone in the United States. The final major argument that Richard

Harvey Cain put forth to solve the problem of discrimination against African Americans was that

the final step to forgetting the Civil War was to grant full political equality to them. Cain

recognized that both Republicans and Democrats were willing to put behind the memory of the

Civil War. However, Cain stated that Republicans were faithful to their side of the bargain having

granted amnesty, but now it was time for Southern Democrats to allow for equal rights through

legislation. Richard Harvey Cains argument for the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was

about conceding to Southern Democrats when necessary as it would be mutually beneficial while

also demanding equal legislation and equal rights for black men and women.

The social justice issues raised by Richard Harvey Cain was that African Americans in

the South were not granted equal rights and legislation that were hard-fought with the Civil War.
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Cain was responding to New South ideology, which attempted to minimize the political gains by

African Americans during Reconstruction. Cains response to dealing with the social justice issue

of oppression and institutional racism in the South was to argue vigorously for the passing of

strong civil rights legislation that would put them on equal footing and couldnt be ignored. The

issues that African Americans in the South faced and the way in which Cain approached its

solving was demonstrative of democratic citizens and their duty to society. According to John

Portelli in The Erosion of Democracy in Education: Critique to Possibilities, Citizenship is

simply legal status in a country, but democratic citizenship involves much more. It demands

becoming informed about issues that affect you and participating with others in determining how

society will resolve those issues. Cain demonstrated democratic citizenship in two ways. The

first way being that Cain saw an issue that affected him as he witnessed firsthand the

discrimination against African Americans in the South. Cain recognized his unique opportunity

as a Congressman from the South, who happened to be African American, to be able to present

his experience of oppression and political inequality to a Congress mainly composed of white

men. Cain by telling multiple stories of how he as an African American man in the South did not

enjoy the same rights and privileges that a white man could under the current form of legislation

in place. Cain by speaking his mind lends creditability to the idea that for equality to exist in the

United States African Americans should have sought equal rights immediately and that passing

the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was the first step to doing that. The second major way that Cain

acted as a democratic citizen was that he informed others that were not knowledgeable about the

oppression in the South that fighting for equal legislation and rights was possible through bills

like the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

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The struggle for black political equality on the part of Richard Harvey Cain campaigning

for the passing of the civil rights bill was admirable from my point of view. The issues that

African Americans faced and that Cain himself has faced personally is something that fascinated

me and makes me feel sympathetic and angry for their suffering. Clearly, there was a problem

and that African Americans were being oppressed in the South through institutional racism in the

form of Southern Democrats in government and oppression through white militant violence

against them. Responsible citizens are those that listened to both sides of the argument with an

open mind and the understanding that no side must be completely right. I believed in Cains

speech and the message of supporting this piece of legislation, but I also saw how he glossed

over things or was overly optimistic to better convince people. He stated that moving towards

equal rights would not have caused animosity with white Southerners, and that most rich

Southerners supported this. He also understated that African Americans in the North also

suffered from bigotry; however, Cain did these things for the right reasons. Responsible citizens

should then act per the evidence and widespread experiences of others that have experienced the

effects of the issue. A responsible citizen, from my point of view, would have supported the

passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as it is a step in the right direction towards the lofty

ideals of equality that the United States was founded on. A responsible citizen sees the events

happening in the South like Southern Democrats taking increasing control, the Ku Klux Klan and

other white supremacist groups becoming more prevalent, and the rise of Jim Crow laws were a

signal that this was time to fight for equal rights. Cains speech is a reminder that responsible

citizens have a duty to act in the face of oppression.