The Illinois Colored Regiment.
We publish the following not to discourage enlistments among free colored men; but to show how some of the free colored men regard the call upon them to enlist in an Illinois Regiment; and also, if possible, to make some men ashamed of themselves for sustaining the infernal Black Laws of Illinois, and still worse, for voting at the hint of a Copperhead Convention, to incorporate the spirit of the Black Laws into the State Constitution.
To the Editor of the Chicago Eve'g Journal:
In the Tribune of the 12th inst. I saw an article headed "The Illinois Colored Regiment," and feeling it my duty, as a representative of the race to which I belong, to lay before the public the true position which we, as free colored men occupy to the Government and to the State of Illinois, I enclose a letter similar to the one I now send you, and respectfully requested the editor of the Tribune to give it a place in the columns of his paper. After waiting four days for its publication, and seeing in the meantime strictures made on certain colored men who have, by their own industry and good deportment, made for themselves money and friends, the only conclusion I can arrive at is that the gentlemen of the Tribune office, who are interested in the 1st Illinois negro regiment, had failed to obtain a nucleus, and must expect to fail, just so long as the contraband arrangement is applied to freemen.
The Tribune has wisely asked, "Am I not a man and a brother?" desiring that every colored man shall apply this question to himself; but it has long since failed to win the weight it should have with the Government or the State who wants our services. But when the question is asked, "Have we as colored freemen fought for the Union?" we answer, no! because the Government has overlooked us, and has failed to do anything for this class of men at the North. If our services are needed, enlist us as free men, with the same bounty and pay which you give white men. In this particular the Government has been remiss, and until Congress does what is right and just, colored men at the North cannot consent to assign themselves to a regulation which is degrading to their manhood, and which would be indignantly spurned by every white American.
But there are abundant reasons why colored men should not enlist in Illinois regiments. When you have answered for the preservation on your statute books for those inhuman enactments by which needless insults are added to needless wrongs; when you can justify the hate, the bitter scorn, the falsehoods and reviling we have suffered in the State; when you have placed the status of the colored men on the same basis with Massachusetts and Rhode Island — then, and only then, will you see able bodied men of color ready to help fill up the quota of the State and uniting their destiny with all that pertains to her welfare. This is the kind of State pride which every colored man should possess who feels himself a man and a true American.
There is certainly a very nice distinction that should be made between the freeman and the freedman. To the freeman the Government has done nothing, to the freedman everything, by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation he has been elevated to a man, and receives for his services a bounty that no man can take from him, namely, freedom. — Therefore the Government has an undoubted right to demand his services until the war is brought to a close.
This is the position which free colored men occupy to the Government and to many of the States. If they are wrong, then the whole nation has been wrong — for when the American people, eighty-seven years ago, were struggling for recognition and independence, their feelings of manhood revolted at the oppressions which British tyrants were imposing upon them, and they never ceased in their efforts until the grand object aimed at was accomplished. Such acts are a part of the history of the country, and will ever speak well for the men who fought, bled and died, that others in the future might enjoy the blessings of liberty. The same manly spirit that prompted your forefathers to strike down the oppressor was infused into the negro, and today, when our services are needed, we ask to be treated as men instead of slaves. If I am a man and a brother, do not attempt to apply a regulation to me that is degrading to my white brother. How can you hope for success in the establishment of the Government on the actual foundations upon which your fathers built, if you persist in denying the most ordinary of rights to a persecuted people?