Слике страница
PDF
ePub

To understand the nature and object of the proposed amendment, it is necessary to know its history and the grounds upon which its ratification is urged.

The people of the eleven Southern States who attempted to secede from the jurisdiction of the Constitution and laws of the United States, and to establish a separate Confederacy, having utterly failed in their attempt, after four years of civil war, were compelled to lay down their arms and return to their obedience to the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The obligation of the Federal Government to restore fugitive slaves, had, in the progress of political and fanatical strife, become one of exceedingly difficult fulfillment. State legislation had virtually nullified the fugitive slave law in a majority of the free States, and the state of popular feeling against it in the others rendered it next to impossible to execute it. In the progress of the civil war, in order to get rid of the constitutional obligation, and to aid the Government and weaken the other party to the war, the Government determined to abolish slavery. It was admitted at the time that this could only be done, legally and effectually, by an amendment of the Constitution. Upon the surrender of their armies, the people of each State accepted the propositions of the President and Commander-in-Chief, as the basis of organizing their State governments in accordance with the results of the war; and in order to the performance of their Federal obligations, the State governments were estalished by the people in each State, and these governments, and the Constitution and laws of the United States, were recognized in every way by the people of each State as obligatory upon every person within their limits. The State Legislatures, under these constitutions, ratified the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery. The Executive department so proclaimed, and Congress acquiesed, and the amendment thus became a part of the Constitution of the United States. Each State duly elected its Senators and Representatives to Congress, the compliance with which Federal obligation by any of the insurgent States by the first day of January, 1863, Mr. Lincoln, by his proclamation of September, 1862, had declared, should, in the absence of strong countervailing proof, "be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof," were no longer in rebellion. Upon the assembling of Congress, in December, 1865, those Senators. and Representatives presented their credentials, and were ready to take their seats, but were refused admission. This refusal was not based on any objection to "the elections, returns and qualifications" of the Southern Senators and Representatives, of which, by the Constitution, "each House shall be the judge," but the two Houses oppointed "a Joint Committee on Reconstruction, charged to inquire into the condi

[ocr errors]

tion of the States which had formed the so-called Confederate States of America, and report whether they, or any of them, are entitled to be represented in either House of Congress." On the 30th of April, 1866, the committee reported amendments to the Constitution, and two bills constituting their plan of reconstruction. One of the bills recited the amendment proposed, and enacted that on the ratification by any of the States lately in insurrection, &c., the Senators and representatives of such State, if found duly elected and qualifiied, &c., might be admitted into Congress as such. The second bill declared certain persons in those States ineligible to office under the government of the United States. This report of the committee failed of adoption by Congress.

Finally, on the 13th of June, 1866, the Joint Resolution aforesaid, now before the committee, passed Congress, and on the 16th of June, was filed in the State Department, and transmitted to the Governor of this State, to be laid before the Legislature for ratification.

The proposed amendment is substantially the same as that reported by the committee on the 30th of April, and was subsequently reported by the committee, as they say, "in another

form."

The report of the committee accompanying the proposed amendment, with the documents, testimony, &c., is contained in a volume of nearly eight hundred pages, printed in small type. The testimony was ex parte, and from witnesses selected by the sub-committees, and summoned from all the Southern States and elsewhere. The subject of their inquiries was, they say, "in a word, the fitness of those States to take an active part in the administration of national affairs." They describe their condition at the close of the war to have been one "of utter exhaustion." Having protracted their struggle against Federal authority, until all hope of successful resistance had ceased, and laid down their arms only because there was no longer any power to use them, the people of those States were left bankrupt in their public finances, and shorn of the private wealth which had before given them power and influence." "After a long, bloody and wasting war, they were compelled by utter exhaustion to lay down their arms; and this they did, not willingly, but declaring that they yielded because they could no longer resist, affording no evidence whatever of repentance for their crime, and expressing no regret, except that they had no longer the power to continue the desperate struggle." The committee then conclude "that the war thus waged, was a civil war of the greatest magnitude," and that by the law of nations, "one of the consequences was, that within the limits prescribed by humanity, the conquered rebels were at the mercy of the conquerors. They say "the testimony is conclusive that after the collapse of the Confederacy, the feeling of the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

people of the rebellious States was that of abject submission. Having appealed to the tribunal of arms, they had no hope, except that by the magnanimity of their conquerors, their lives, and possibly their property, might be preserved." But the committee found evidence of a great and sudden change in the feelings of those people. They say "the general issue of pardons to persons who had been prominent in the rebellion, and the feeling of kindness and conciliation manifested by the executive, and very generally indicated through the Northern press, had the effect to render whole communities forgetful the crime they had committed, defiant towards the general government, and regardless of their duties as citizens. The conciliatory measures of the government do not seem to have been met even, half way. The bitterness and defiance exhibited towards the United States, is without a parallel in the history of the world. In return for our leniency, we receive only an insulting denial of our authority. In return for our kind desire for the resumption of fraternal relations, we receive only an insolent assumption of rights and privileges long since forfeited."

"The conclusion of the committee, therefore, is, that the socalled Confederate States are not, at present, entitled to representation in the Congress of the United States; that before allowing such representation, adequate security for future peace and safety should be required; that this can only be found in such changes of the organic law as shall determine the civil rights and privileges of all citizens in all parts of the republic, and place representation on an equitable basis, shall fix a stigma upon treason, and protect loyal people against future claims for the expenses incurred in support of the rebellion and for manumitted slaves, together with an express grant of power in Congress to enforce those provisions." To this end they offer a joint resolution for amending the Constitution of the United States, and "the two bills designed to carry the same into effect before referred to." They admit that they are "sensible of the imperfections of the scheme," but submit it to Congress as the best they could agree upon, in the hope that its imperfections may be cured and its deficiencies supplied by legislative wisdom; and that when finally adopted it may tend to restore peace and harmony to the whole country, and place our republican institutions on a more stable foundation."

""

[ocr errors]

We have thus a brief history of the proposed amendment to change "the organic law." The avowed purpose is, to punish insurgents, rebels and traitors," "public enemies of the United States," "enemies conquered in war" as the report describes them, in order to future peace and safety.

There are several striking incongruities in this proposition. The first is, that while this demand for additional powers to be conferred upon the Federal Government, is presented in

the report, as if made upon the so-called Confederate States only, and as a punishment to them, it is in fact made upon every State in the Union. If ratified by the requisite number of States, it is to be equally obligatory upon all. Secondly, that while its practical operation would diminish very materially the representation of these States in the House of Representatives, unless they conferred suffrage upon the colored race, Maryland and other States, which stood faithfully by the Government, and met every requisition of the war, are placed in the same category with the so-called "rebel States,' and subjected to the same punishment.

""

Let us now consider the questions involved in the ratification of the proposed amendment as presented to the Legislature of Maryland. And first, has this amendment been proposed in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution of the United States?

This is a question of the utmost gravity and importance. It is not only the right, but the duty of the Legislature to consider it. The Constitution provides that "the Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houscs shall deem it necessary, propose amendments to this Constitution." The joint resolution says, "Be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, (two-thirds of both houses concurring,) that the following Article be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of said Legislatures, shall be valid as part of the Constitution."

The question is, did two-thirds of both houses of the Congress, within the true intent and meaning of the Constitution, concur in this proposition? The Constitution says, "the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several States; and the electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State Legislature." "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof," &c.

The Constitution proceeds upon the idea that the direct interest of each State in the proceedings of Congress, will, at all times, be a sufficient guarantee of its representation therein. There was no thought of compulsory representation, and certainly none of forcible exclusion of the representatives of any State, and least of all upon any such grounds as those contained in the report.

A Congress, within the meaning of the Constitution, consists of the Senators and Representatives of all the States composing the United States, duly elected, returned and qualified, who shall present themselves for the discharge of their duties in their respective houses. "A majority "A majority of each house

2

shall constitute a quorum to do business," but the Constitution never contemplated that a majority should assume to themselves the whole power of Congress by the forcible exclusion of the minority, or any portion of it, on any ground whatever not specially provided for in the Constitution. Yet the report of the Reconstruction Committee, and the proceedings of Congress, show that from the two houses of Congress which proposed this amendment, the Senators and Representatives of eleven States were forcibly excluded. Congress defend their action on the plea that the people of those States, by rebellion and civil war, had "forfeited their right of representation in Congress. "Forfeiture is a punishment annexed by law to some illegal act." The committee have failed to point out any clause of the Constitution or in the laws of Congress describing the illegal act to which the alleged forfeiture is annexed as a punishment. The Constitution provides that "each State shall have at least one representative," and one of the exceptions to the power of amendment is "that no State, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate." Now how were those rights forfeited by any one of the Confederate States? The Reconstruction Report says: "A State within the Union has obligations to perform as a member of the Uniou. It must submit to federal laws, and uphold federal authority." But federal laws do not operate upon a State. They operate upon the individual persons. Every person subject to the jurisdiction of the Constitution of the United States must submit to the federal laws, or bear the penalty of resistance or infraction. But how can a State be punished? Where is the constitutional or legal enactment that for such and such acts of the people of a State, they shall forfeit their State organization, and all their State rights of voting and holding office, and of representation in Congress? The Constitution defines treason and confers on Congress the power to declare its punishment, but provides that no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture, except during the life of the person attainted. Congress had power to punish treason by imprisonment for life, and forfeiture of estate during the life of the offender; or by imprisonment for a term of years and forfeiture of estate for life and all civil and political privileges. But Congress did not so provide. In 1790 they declared the punishment of treason to be death, and that there should be no forfeiture of estate, 2 Story on Const., 179, says: "The law of Congress punishes treason, on conviction, with death, but declares that no conviction or judgment, for any capital or other offences shall work corruption of blood, or any forfeiture of estate. The history of other countries abundantly proves that one of the strong incentives to prosecute offences, as treason, has been the chance of sharing in the plunder of the victims. Rapacity has been thus stimulated to exert it

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« ПретходнаНастави »