Document HS I-11: An Appeal to Fellow Citizens: Excerpts from "Address by the Colored Inhabitants of Nantucket" in the Inquirer, March 5, 1842
ADDRESS To the School Committee, and other Inhabitants of the Town of Nantucket…
This Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] is, or may be considered, as a large society, having an instrument called a Constitution. This instrument is intended to express the object of the association, and defines the obligations under which its members have come in respect to each other. It expresses the manner in which that object is to be accomplished; that is, it declares what the individual promises to do for the society, and what the society promises to do for the individual, and the object for which the association is formed. We have a code of laws, which are supposed to be agreeable with the spirit of the Constitution in general. Having made the above remarks, we now take for granted that the Constitution and laws of this Commonwealth make no distinction among its citizens on account of complexion or symmetry. If this be acknowledged, then we infer that the Constitution and law of this State recognise (sic) the equality of its citizens in respect to rights.
Again, whatever system may be formed or arrangements made for the benefit of the members of this Commonwealth, let it be the common school system, or any other system by which its inhabitants may be benefitted (sic) or improved, the inference is, that all are to enjoy the advantages to be derived from them on equal terms, in the same manner, and in the same amount. This inference, we presume our citizens will acknowledge to be reasonable and just, unless any one will attempt to show that God created man with as great a variety of rights as there are distinctions of color and form, and that society has a right to proportion the privileges of its members upon such considerations. This assumption is so big with absurdity that it needs no argument to make its inconsistency apparent….
[T]here is no proscriptive act that we know of to prevent the colored citizens enjoying the common school system of education, in the same manner, and in the same amount, that it is enjoyed by our more favored fellow citizens.
But do we enjoy it because it is lawful that we should? While our more favored fellow citizens… enjoy every benefit that the common school system holds out, while we are all rejected, and that contrary to our laws, because it has pleased the good Creator to make our complexions differ from those of others of our fellow citizens. If this be the ground of our exclusion, as we have stated, and we think that our statement is undeniable, then we will most respectfully, ask this intelligent and Christian community who know this is to be the ground of our exclusion, is it right, is it just?…
[W]e are by the Constitution and laws acknowledged to be citizens, and consequently entitled to all the rights and privileges in common with other citizens, and then that for a mere accident, the difference of complexion, we are denied the right or privilege of education in common with our fellow citizens; we must pronounce it to be unkind, unjust….
We here submit these remarks to the inhabitants of the town of Nantucket, hoping that the day is not far distant, when the good sense and christianity (sic) of this republic will proceed to make its distinctions in Society on just and reasonable grounds, and not according to the color of the skin, and when the common proverb for distinction shall be, Mentem non frontem hominis spectato. In behalf of the oppressed portion of the citizens of Nantucket,WILLIAM SERRINGTON,WILLIAM MORRIS,WILLIAM HARRIS,Committee for Publication.
Editor’s note: Paragraphs were added to this document to make for easier reading.