Race, Creed or Color


FirstMention.com explores the history and origins of
common words and phrases

Truth is, I’ve never been perfectly clear on the meaning of creed. And when you start to think things through, race and color don’t have very precise definitions either.

But the extension of fundamental rights to people, regardless of race, creed or color, is a fundamental principle of our modern democracy. It wasn’t always the case, of course (and many will argue it still is not!). But nonetheless, the principle is deeply rooted and important.

Where did it come from? The FirstMention of race, creed or color appears to have taken place in 1864, in the context of a Civil War era hospital known as the Protestant Hospital in Milwaukee. A description in the February 9, 1864 edition of the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel assured readers that the hospital is even-handed in its treatments. “Patients are received without distinction of country, color or religion”, the article notes.

It then goes on as follows…

…As will be seen by what has gone

before, this institution is founded on an emi-

nently catholic basis. Its charity knows no

distinctions of race, creed or color. As such

it has received the liberal support of and will

be directed by our best and most responsible


The phrase apparently struck a chord, and it wasn’t long before it began appearing in other speeches and articles, and eventually, in the halls of Congress.

A January 19, 1866 speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate (as reported in the N.Y. Times the following day), argued for a particular reconstruction resoultion with these words…take a look at the last paragraph.

The assurance of human rights to all persons…regardless of race, creed of color. May it soon come to pass.