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SINCE the rupture of our colonial dependence on the mother country, seven Conventions have been held in South Carolina. The first of these, if that can be called a Convention, which was simply a self-constituted organization of the Colonial Congress into a General Assembly, without any special reference to the voice of the people, was held in March, 1776, and it then framed a temporary Constitution, which was tacitly accepted as the original law of the colony, until a reconciliation should be effected between Britain and its revolted provinces, a consummation, at that time, both wished and expected by many. This Constitution remained in force. for two years only. In 1778, the Legislature of the State, assuming, by its own will, the province of a Convention, adopted a new Constitution, which, however irregularly formed, seems, evidently, to have been an improvement on the preceding instrument, since it diminished the prerogatives of the ruling powers, and extended the privileges of the people. Yet, neither of these Constitutions was framed in that regular and legitimate mode which would give to it the character and the value of a fundamental law; indeed, the Supreme Court of the State subsequently affirmed, with great distinctness, that the Constitutions of both 1776 and 1778, were merely ordinary statutes, repealable by the General Assembly.
Passing over the Convention of 1787, which was called only to ratify the Federal Constitution, we come to the fourth Convention of the State, which was convened in 1790, by the Legislature, under its ordinary legislative power. The Constitution framed by this Convention continued, with a few amendments enacted in 1808, and in 1816, to be the organic law of the State for seventy years.
In 1860, the General Assembly summoned a Convention for the express purpose of enacting an Ordinance of Secession, and attempted to withdraw the State from its connection with the National Government-an attempt whose signal failure is on the record of history. This Convention did not frame a new Constitution, but made those modifications in the old one which were rendered necessary by the supposed changed relations of the State to the Union. Of the illegality of this Convention, and of all the proceedings under it, it is unnecessary to make an argument.
The civil war having terminated by the defeat of the rebellious forces, the overthrow of the so-called Confederacy, and the restoration of the State to its primary and paramount allegiance to the General Government, the entire change in the internal organization of the State, consequent on the abolition of slavery, and the assumption by one-half of its population of the status of freemen and citizens, rendered the old Constitution of 1790 no longer applicable to the changed condition of things.
Accordingly, in 1865, the President of the United States, having appointed a Provisional Governor, directed the calling of a Convention, which assembled in September, 1865, and framed a new Constitution for the government of the people. This Constitution, although in sonie respects an improvement on that of 1790, was not such an instrument as the progressive spirit of the age demanded. Slavery, it is true, was abolished, although the abolition was ungracefully accorded to the demands of superior power; but the framers of the organic law had not yet learned the lessons of the war, and were too little imbued with the expansive spirit of the age to recognize the just and equal rights of all in the eye of the law.
We need not enter into the argument, whether the Convention of 1865 was legally called, or whether its acts could be of any binding force. That question has been definitively settled by the law-making power of the nation. Congress has decided that it was no part of the prerogative of the Executive to call Conventions, or to direct the adoption of Constitutions. That power it has reserved to itself, and, accordingly, under the Reconstruction Acts of Congress, a Convention of the State assembled in January, 1868, the result of whose labors has been accepted by those whom the Constitution is to govern, as the organic law of the land.
Of the legality of this Convention, there can be no doubt. The question whether a Convention should be called, was regularly submitted to the people, who, by`a
large majority of votes declared it to be their will that such a body should be convened, for the avowed purpose of presenting to it a proposition for a change of the organic law. At the same time delegates were elected by the people to represent them in that Convention. Under the express declaration of the people, their representatives assembled and framed a Constitution. This Constitution was, subsequently, submitted to the people for their rejection or their adoption. The people, in the exercise of their sovereign will, have chosen to adopt and ratify this Constitution as the form of civil polity under which they desire to live, and have expressed that desire by an overwhelming majority of votes, and no power but that of the people, in like, manner, expressing a contrary will, can subvert that law.
Some very silly, and some very fanatical persons, have pretended to sneer at the constitutionality of the Convention of 1868. The sneers of the fool and the vituperations of the partisan are equally unworthy and incapable of being met by honest argument. If argument were available, on their own theory they could be convinced of error.
The enemies of congressional reconstruction, who alone have been the denouncers of the legality of the Convention of 1868, have never denied the constitutionality and legitimacy of that of 1865. But a comparison of the two will easily show how much the former surpasses the latter in all the elements of legality and constitutionality.
The preliminary steps towards the reconstruction of 1865, were inaugurated by the Executive in the exercise of what at best can only be deemed a doubtful prerogative. Those which led to the reconstruction of 1868 were authorized by Congress, the law-making power of the nation, and its prerogative to act in this matter has been denied by no one, although many have chosen to express discontent with the mode and manner of its exercise. The Convention of 1865 was called by a direct order of the President, and without any application to the people for their sanction and approval of the measure. That of 1868, although recommended by Congress, was not called until the people had, at the polls, by a large majority of votes, expressed their will that the Convention should assemble. The delegates to the Convention of 1865 were elected by only a part of the people, the great loyal element of the country being almost wholly ignored. Those of 1868 were chosen by all the people, save those who had been justly disqualified by their participation, directly or indirectly, in the crime of treason. The Constitution of 1865, when adopted by the Convention, was adopted as a finality, and the people were neither asked their consent to its provisions, nor permitted, if it were not popular, to reject it. They were called upon only to hear and obey. The Constitution of 1868, after it had been framed by the representatives of the people, was submitted to them for their approval. Its provisions were subjected to examination, and the question being propounded at the ballot box, the people, by a vote whose majority was more than forty thousand, declared that it was their will that the Constitution of 1868 should be the fundamental law under which they were to live, until in their wisdom they should, at some future time, choose to change it. If the Convention and the Constitution of 1865 were legal, then, a fortiori, the Convention and the Constitution of 1868 must have been equally so.
But to those who believe in the justice and the expediency of the system of construction adopted by Congress, and men of that opinion comprise much the larger portion of the people of the State, no such argument is necessary. Denying the legality of the Convention of 1865, they recognize that of 1868 as the only legitimate Convention that has assembled in the State of South Carolina since the year 1790. Of such a body, the proceedings cannot but be highly interesting, and, accordingly, before its adjournment, it took the necessary steps for publishing the record of its proceedings. These were carefully and accurately kept by Mr. JosePHUS WOODRUFF, a professional stenographer, who was officially employed by the Convention. The work has been faithfully performed, and is, under the authority of the Convention, submitted to the people of the State as an interesting record of a part of the history of the times.
ALBERT G. MACKEY, President of the South Carolina Convention.
Pursuant to an Act of Congress of the United States, entitled an Act supplementary to an Act entitled "An Act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States," passed on the second day of March, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and the Act supplementary thereto, passed on the twenty-third day of March, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, the Delegates from the several Election Districts of this State assembled in the Club House, in the city of Charleston, on this day, at 12 o'clock, M.
The Convention was called to order by Mr. TIMOTHY HURLEY, of Berkley District.
On motion of Mr. JAMES M. RUTLAND, of Fairfield, Mr. T. J. ROBERTSON, of Richland, was called to the Chair.
Mr. ROBERTSON on taking the Chair addressed the Convention as follows:
Gentlemen of the Convention:-We, the delegates of the loyal people of South Carolina, are assembled here for the purpose of restoring our State to her proper relations in the Federal Union.
It becomes us to frame a just an liberal Constitution, that will guarantee equal rights to all, regardless of race, color or previous condition-a Constitution which will comply with the Reconstruction Acts of Congress, thereby insuring our speedy admission into the Union.
I trust there will be no class legislation here. I hope we will act harmoniously, promptly, judiciously and in such a manner as will reflect credit on ourselves, and secure the confidence of the people of the State, whorn we represent. By your kind assistance I hope to speedily organize this Convention.
Mr. WM. J. McKINLAY, of Orangeburg, was chosen temporary Secretary.
By direction of the Chair, the Secretary read the following order convening the body:
HEADQUARTERS SECOND MILITARY DISTRICT,
At the election held in the State of South Carolina, on the 19th and 20th days of November, 1867, pursuant to General Orders No. 99, from these Headquarters, dated October 16, 1867, a majority of the registered voters of the said State having voted on the question of holding a Convention, and a majority of the votes cast being in favor of holding such Convention, the delegates elected thereto, and hereinafter named, are hereby notified, in conformity with the provisions of the fourth section. of the Act of Congress of March 23, 1867, to assemble in convention in the city of Charleston, South Carolina, at noon, on Tuesday, the 14th day of January, 1868, for the purpose of framing a constitution and civil government according to the provisions of the aforesaid Act of the 23d day of March, 1867, and of the Act of the 2d day of March, 1867, to which it is supplementary.
A copy of this order will be furnished to each of the persons hereinafter named, and shall be the evidence of his having been elected as a delegate to the aforesaid Convention.
District of Abbeville-Hutson J. Lomax, Nelson Joiner, Jno. A. Hunter, Bailey Milford, Thomas Williamson.
District of Anderson.-William Perry, Dr. N. J. Newell, Samuel John
District of Barnwell.-Charles P. Leslie, Niles G. Parker, James N. Hayne, Julius Mayer, Charles D. Hayne, Abram Middleton.
District of Berkley.-Joseph H. Jenks, W. H. W. Gray, George Lee, A. C. Richmond, D. H. Chamberlain, Wm. Jervey, Timothy Hurley, M. F. Becker, Benjamin Byas.
District of Beaufort.-Francis E. Wilder. James D. Bell, Robert Smalls, J. J. Wright, R. G. Holmes, W. J. Whipper, L. S. Langley.
District of Charleston.-A. G. Mackey, F. A. Sawyer, A. J. Ransier, William McKinlay, Robt. C. DeLarge, Francis L. Cardozo, Gilbert Pillsbury, C. C. Bowen, Richard H. Cain.
District of Chester.-S. Sanders, P. Alexander, B. Burton.
District of Colleton.-William M. Thomas, John K. Terry, William Driffle, William M. Viney, Jesse S. Craig.
District of Chesterfield.--R J. Donaldson, H. L. Shrewsbury.
District of Darlington.—Jordan Lang. B. F. Whittemore, Isaac Brockenton, Richard Humbird
District of Edgefield.-R. B. Elliott, George DeMeddis, John Wooley, Prince R. Rivers, Jolin Bonum, David Harris, Frank Arnim.
District of Fairfield.-Henry Jacobs, James M. Rutland, H. D. Edwards.
District of Georgetown.-Franklin F. Miller, Henry W. Webb, Joseph H. Rainey.
District of Greenville.—William B. Johnson, James M. Allen, James M. Runion, Wilson Cooke.
District of Horry.-Augustus R. Thompson, Henry Jones.
District of Kershaw.-J. K. Jillson, S. G. W. Dill, John A. Chestnut. District of Lexington.-Lemuel Boozer, Simeon Corley.
District of Lancaster.—Albert Clinton, Charles Jones.
District of Laurens.-Nelson Davis, Joseph Crews, Harry McDaniels, Y. J. P. Owens.
District of Marlboro'.—Calvin Stubbs, George Jackson
District of Marion.-William S. Collins, H. E. Hayne, Benjamin A. Thompson, J. W. Johnson.
District of Newberry-Lee Nanco, B. Odell Duncan, James Hender
District of Orangeburg.-E. J. Cain, E. W. M. Mackey, Benjamin F. Randolph, T. L. Sasportas, W. J. McKinlay.
District of Pickens.-Alexander Boyce, M. Mauldin, Dr. L. B. John
District of Richland.- William B. Nash, Charles M. Wilder, Samuel B. Thompson, Thomas J. Robertson.
District of Spartanburg.—John S. Gentry, J. P. F. Camp, Rice Foster, Coy Wingo.
District of Sumter.-T. J. Coghlan, W. E. Johnston, Samuel Lee, F. J. Moses, Jr.
District of Union.-Abram Dogan, Samuel Nuckles, James H. Goss. District of Williamsburg.-C. M. Olsen, S. A. Swails, William Darrington.
District of York -W. E. Rose, Dr. J. C. Neagle, J. H. White, John W. Mead.
By command of Brevet Major-General Ed. R. S. Canby:
LOUIS V. CAZIARC,
LOUIS V. CAZIARC, Aide-de-Camp, Actg. Asst. Adgjt. Genl.
Aide-de-Camp, Actg. Asst. Adjt. Genl.