By the time of the Spanish-American War, the experience of a generation of freed-men had thrown the light of the years upon the question of Negro citizenship. Before the outbreak of the World War the country was beginning to be fully conscious of the national problem in race relations. Therefore, before entering the new period ushered in by the World War, the question of the citizenship of the Negro may well be reviewed as it then stood.

1From letter quoted in The Black Soldier by Mary Curtis, p. 34.

Under Federal laws any distinction defined on the basis of race is also a legal discrimination because Federal law theoretically knows no race, color, or creed. In the words of the Supreme Court,1 "The Constitution of the United States in its present form forbids, so far as civil and political rights are concerned, discrimination by the general government, or by the states, against any citizen because of his race. All citizens are equal before the law. The guarantees of life, liberty, and property are for all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States, or of any state, without discrimination against any because of their race".

The civic status of the Negro has gradually grown up through the years. It has been a long, long way from the status of the slave to that of freedman. The old legal status of the Negro slave can probably be best illustrated by the celebrated case of Dred Scott. It was Scott's contention that Sanford, his Missouri master, could not restrain him as a slave in Missouri when he attempted to return to the free soil of Illinois. In deciding the case, the United States Supreme Court declared that persons of African descent were not constituent members of the Sovereign people and "that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'Citizen' in the Constitution and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States".

The Court held further that citizenship conferred by states after the adoption of the Constitution did not carry with it citizenship in the United States or any of the rights, privileges, or immunities of citizens of other states, should a person move from one state to another. Some of the Justices of the Court both dissented from the law and challenged the facts of the majority opinion of the Court; but the majority prevailed. This decision of the United States Supreme Court was soon followed by fugitive slave laws which permitted slave owners to go into free territory, claim persons as their runaway slaves, and carry them back to slave territory. With some alterations of details this was the status of the Negro slave until the Emancipation Proclamation.

1 Case of Strauder vs. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 103.

Free persons of color in slave states were better off to a limited extent than slaves. By 1860, there were 434,000 free Negroes in the United States, 260,000 of them in the South. They were exempt from involuntary servitude. They could go freely from place to place within most states, provided they had their free papers to present to any one who questioned them. But the restrictions increased following the Nat Turner insurrection in 1832, particularly as to free assemblage. The free person of color had more legal right of protection of his person from injury under the law than a slave had. In practise, however, the slave had protection through his master. Free Negroes in Northern states gradually achieved the right to hold property, to move freely from place to place, to protection in the courts and, in some states, to free exercise of the franchise.

The Emancipation Proclamation and the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the Federal Constitution made enslavement no longer legal, giving the Negro legal rights as a citizen and making him legally a man instead of a thing. In practical operation, however, it has been a long process to get the old habits of daily life changed and to introduce the legal principles into the practises of everyday relations.