Our two friends were among the last detachment of Knights to leave Mt. Clare. The great multitude had returned on the "Carrier Pigeon" at an early hour that morning. The grand officers and a selected few of the other distinguished visitors, the majority of whom were from the far away south-land, had lingered until the last possible moment, drinking to its very dregs the delights of this, the happiest reunion of their knightly organization. Promptly at nine o'clock the beautiful "City of Athens" unloosed her cables and turned her prow toward the distant lake.
The night was perfect. The rays of the full moon touched with fairy fingers the sparkling waters in tints of purest silver. Streaming far in the wake of the steamer, the recently disturbed water glittered in the soft moonlight like a tremulous, phosphorescent sea. The party above referred to occupied chairs in the aft recess. Each filled with his own thoughts, conversation lagged.
Mr. St. John, as usual, broke the silence. "That is the last of Mt. Clare," he remarked, half to himself.
"I thought we had left Mt. Clare long enough ago," said Lotus Stone.
"No, I have been sitting here watching the last light as it grew smaller, until, just before I spoke, it closed its weary eye like a sleepy child and sank to rest beyond my visual horizon."
"I was watching the same light, but I missed it some time since," said Colonel Stanton. "Your eyes are younger than mine, St. John," he continued.
"A few years younger, I suppose, but yours, like the great George Washington's, have grown dim in the service of your country," said Clement, complimentary.
"Don't put such ideas into Colonel Stanton's head," said the Eminent Grand Commander, laughingly. "You will have him applying for an increase of pension. We have too many militia colonels on the pay roll of the government as it is."
At this witty thrust at the colonel's title, the coterie about the table burst into hilarious laughter.
"That's on me," said the colonel, dryly. "Come in and have something, gentlemen."
"No one can be dry when contemplating so much water," answered the Eminent Grand Commander.
"We don't drink overly much water in my state. We have a nameless void that yawns for Old Kentucky Bourbon," said Colonel Stanton.
"Colonel Stanton," said Clement, "you live in the South, and on business or pleasure you have spent a great deal of time in the North; from your standpoint, what is the difference between the two sections?"
"There are many sides to your question, young man," said the colonel, thoughtfully. "A conservative, intelligent, Afro-American will do well enough in either section. Nine times out of ten it is man rather than the part of the country in which he happens to live that tells for his future."
"I agree with you in that statement, of course," said Clement, "but what differences, if any, do you observe between the North and South?"
"There is a marked difference, but to my way of thinking, it is from within rather than from without. Bear in mind I speak of the intelligent, conservative man. In the South, such a man knows he is a virtuous citizen, but feels that the majority of his fellow citizens doubt it. In the North such a citizen feels that he is a man, and that opinion is strengthened and encouraged by the knowledge that the majority of his fellow citizens take the same view of the subject."
"What other men, sinners like myself, think of my actions would have nothing to do with the case. The consciousness of a correct life is its own best reward," said Lotus Stone.
"We are not splitting ethical hairs, young man," said the colonel. "Virtue may be its own best reward, but to feel that every other man you meet regards you as an unhung villain, is not the most encouraging incentive to moral excellence. To feel than an unwritten presumption of guilt before the facts are known, constantly hangs above one's head, takes from the best of us that substantial aid which we all need to stem the current of temptations which we hourly meet."
"What our people need in the South and everywhere else is more independence. We are too docile, too subservient," said Lotus Stone.
"You speak well, but not by the card," said the colonel. "Their independence, in one respect, was their undoing. If, after freedom came, the former slave had sought the paternal care of his late owner, the master class would have defended him against the cruel indignities of the 'poor whites' to the last drop. Be it said, to the never dying credit of the Negro, that when the shackles fell from his limbs, he stepped forth in the power of his new found manhood to sink or swim by individual effort. He rightly chose the perils of freedom to the vassalage of a patron."
"More than fifty exchanges, edited by Afro-Americans, reach my office weekly," said Clement. "What I am at a loss to understand is why these papers so frequently deny or excuse the wrongs perpetrated against our people in the South. They often take me to task for flagellating American civilization in general and that part of it south of Mason and Dixon's line in particular. It cannot be that these journalists are not cognizant of the truth of my assertions."
"'Breathes there a man with soul so dead,said Colonel Stanton. "These Southern Afro-Americans are as indignant over the outrages occurring daily in their midst as their brothers in the North, but there is a note of patronizing pity in the tone of northern sympathy extremely exasperating to a southerner. One's country is his country however unkindly it may treat him. The Afro-American, south, loves his home notwithstanding its unjust discriminations. His state pride, indigenous to southern soil, often gets the better of his judgment," said the colonel laughingly.
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land?'"
"How an Afro-American of any intelligence can find anything in this country to be proud of is an enigma to me," said another member of the party. "I agree with one of our great leaders, that no negro should ever sing,
'My country, 'tis of thee,while a condition more revolting than slavery exists in the country."
Sweet land of liberty,'
"That is the purest nonsense," said Lotus excitedly. "The country in which a man is born is his country. If there are wrongs to redress, it is his duty to labor to right them. All the rights any other citizen can claim are not mine by special legislation, but by birthright. 'My country, 'tis of thee' I sing, and whether I sing it or not it is my country and there is no possible way to divorce myself from it, except I leave it and swear allegiance to another flag."
"Well, we can leave it; and the day will come when we shall turn to Africa, our native land, with eagerness," remarked the other gentleman.
"If anybody want to go to Africa, let him go; but Africa as a native land for the American Negro is a myth. A great bishop may plant, and the colonization society may water, but the population of Africa will never be materially increased from the ranks of the Afro-American," said Lotus.
"Do you not believe that some day our people will return to Africa?"
"Yes; when every Jew goes back to the Jordan; when every Englishman returns to the Thames; when every Irishman goes back to the Shannon, every Frenchman to the Seine; every Italian to the Tiber and every German to the Rhine, then the Afro-American may sit down and seriously think of returning to the Congo."
"We shall never gain our fight for equal manhood by running off to Africa. But I admit that I grow discouraged and heart sick as I read of some fresh disregard for the commonest rights of men enacted with impunity, every day, in the South. It is a red letter day when some man, guilty or innocent, is not lynched. The most disgraceful side of the question is the equanimity with which the country receives the news of the most inhuman lynching. The press simply notes the fact as an item of news, with here and there an editor possessing the rare temerity to comment. The church is as dumb as an oyster upon the injustice practiced in our own country; but alive and able to hold indignation meetings and circulate petitions to the Czar of all the Russias for the alleviation of the condition of his subjects," said Clement, growing more indignant as he continued to talk.
"Lynch law is a foul blot upon the escutcheon of our civilization," said Colonel Stanton, slowly. "No enlightened European government would tolerate lynching."
"But can it be stopped until the moral character of the people rises above such illegal actions? Who can argue with a mob?" asked Lotus.
"Powder and lead," said Clement, rising and moving about to suppress his excitement. "Give them what they give -- mob the mobbers."
"That is brave talk, considering your distance from the arena of daily disturbance, but just so long as the conscience of a people is so callous that it finds entertainment in seeing human beings roasted alive with all the eclat of a political barbecue, such people need missionaries rather than cold lead. The persecutors are more to be pitied than their victims," replied Lotus seriously.
"Christianity, wealth and education will some day lift a cultured American Negro to the status accorded an ignorant Italian," remarked the Eminent Grand Commander sarcastically.
"Christianity, wealth and education are great levelers," began Colonel Stanton, "but they have failed utterly to fill the requirements in this country. Christianity seldom rises above the masses that profess it. As a theory it is simply sublime. If those who claim to follow Christ acted upon the precepts he taught, then earth would be a paradise. Christianity, North and South, has done wonders for the Afro-American, but while the heathen rage and people imagine a vain thing, even the power of Christianity is unable to turn them from their purpose. Wealth is helping to beat down prejudice. The man who owns a home, however humble, is doing more to eliminate the unknown quantity that is necessary before the problem is solved, than the orator who delivers a vehement philippic. Education of the right kind is also an important factor. While it helps us it also deepens the hatred of the ignorant masses against us."
"I have always believed," said Clement, "that the solution of this perplexing question is not moral, material, nor intellectual; but the essence of the three -- political. The palladium of equality in a republic is the ballot; the badge of citizenship is the right to vote. It is the citizen's only protection; without it he becomes a political nondescript, at the mercy of every demagogue who bids for popular favor by preaching a crusade of prejudice. The non-voting citizen is the only person who can be maltreated with impunity. Men who vote elect judges, legislators, and governors, and if these officers forget the interests of their constituents, they receive a painful reminder when they again aspire for office. Would a legislature responsible to all the people, pass a separate coach law, sanction lynching, permit every kind of indignity to be put upon an inoffensive people? Not if the people knew their rights. The equality of citizenship, which is the foundation stone of our political fabric, promises to every native born freeman the same rights. By our laws, if a man is a citizen, he must be the equal of every other citizen, since our laws do not recognize the supremacy of one class above another, and therefore whatever right any other citizen enjoys is his by the common law of equals."
"How can an Afro-American vote when the constitutional amendments are null and void?" asked Lotus.
"What have the amendments to do with it anyway? The Afro-American's right to citizenship is not based upon amendments, but upon nativity and freedom. If a man is born in a country and is free, or ever afterward becomes free, that birthright entitles him to citizenship. The amendments were the officers that enabled us to get our rights, but our citizenship rights, are interwoven through the conception and structural erection of constitutional government," Clement concluded.
"That is at least a new presentation of an old subject. I must think it over," said Colonel Stanton rising. "You young men can settle this question between you," he added, "I believe I will retire."
All the company except Clement and Lotus followed the gay old colonel into the cabin.
The two young men sat there until far into the night discussing future plans, building air castles destined before many months or years to tumble about their heads. At last, as if at a loss for something more to say, or new to propose, they sought their state rooms to live again in a land of dreams, the experiences of the past week.
Chapter 8 -- Chapter 10