The opposition to this scheme was under the leadership of one of the ablest and most brilliant members of the bar, Judge J.B. Christman, of Lincoln County. As a substitute for the George plan or understanding clause, he ably and eloquently advocated the adoption of a fair and honest educational qualification as a condition precedent to registration and voting, to be equally applicable to whites and blacks.
The speeches on both sides were able and interesting. It looked for a while as if the substitute clause proposed by Judge Christman would be adopted. In consequence of such an apprehension, Judge Calhoun, the President of the Convention, took the floor in opposition to the Christman plan, and in support of the one proposed by Senator George. The substance of his speech was that the Convention had been called for the purpose of insuring the ascendency of the white race,—the Democratic party,—in the administration of the State Government through some other methods than those which had been enforced since 1875.
“If you fail in the discharge of your duties in this matter,” he declared, “the blood of every negro that will be killed in an election riot hereafter will be upon your shoulders.”
In other words, the speaker frankly admitted, what everyone knew to be a fact, that the ascendency of the Democratic party in the State had been maintained since 1875 through methods which, in his opinion, should no longer be sanctioned and tolerated. These methods, he contended, were corrupting the morals of the people of the State and should be discontinued; but the ascendency of the Democratic party must be maintained at any cost. The George plan, he urged, would accomplish this result, because if the negroes were disfranchised according to the forms of law, there would be no occasion to suppress his vote by violence because he would have no vote to suppress; and there would be no occasion to commit fraud in the count or perjury in the returns.
Notwithstanding this frank speech, which was intended to arouse the fears of the members of the Convention from a party standpoint, the defeat of the Christman substitute was by no means an assured fact. But the advocates of the George plan,—the “understanding clause,”—were both desperate and determined. Contrary to public expectation two Republicans, Geo. B. Melchoir and I.T. Montgomery, had been elected to the Convention from Bolivar County. But their seats were contested, and it was assumed that their Democratic contestants would be seated. Still, pending the final disposition of the case, the two Republicans were the sitting members. Montgomery was colored and Melchoir was white. But the George faction needed those two votes. No one suspected, however, that they would get them in any other way than by seating the contestants. The advocates and supporters of the Christman substitute were, therefore, very much surprised and disappointed when they learned that Mr. Montgomery, the only colored