The suffrage issue arose on December 8, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln restricted the vote to white males only. In response, Bertonneau led a petition campaign during which more than a 1000 signatures were gathered to allow those black men free before the Civil War to vote.
In April 1864, the petition was delivered to President Lincoln and Congress by Bertonneau and Jean Baptiste Roudanez. At the urging of Massachusetts Republican Senator Charles Sumner, the petition was transformed into a demand for universal black male suffrage in Louisiana.
Before returning to New Orleans, Bertonneau and Roudanez promoted universal male suffrage in Massachusetts at a dinner in their honor before a delegation of Radical Republicans and Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew. After introductions, Bertonneau delivered his stirring speech “Every Man Should Stand Equal Before the Law.” On April 15, 1864, the speech was published in the abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator.
Bertonneau was a delegate to the Convention of Colored Men of Louisiana in 1865 and to Louisiana’s Constitutional Convention in 1867-68. He was Louisiana’s Assistant Internal Revenue Collector in the early-1870s.
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