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tisan politics, he took occasion to assail the committee violently, declaring that the end of one rebellion was witnessing the beginning of a new rebellion; saying that “there is an attempt now to concentrate all power in the hands of a few at the federal head, and thereby bring about a consolidation of the Republic, which is equally objectionable with its dissolution. * The substance of your government may be taken away, while there is held out to you the form and the shadow.” He described the Joint Committee as an “irresponsible central directory,” which had assumed "nearly all the powers of Congress," without "even consulting the legislative and executive departments of the Government.
Suppose I should name to you those whom I look upon as being opposed to the fundamental principles of this Government, and as laboring to destroy them.
I say Thaddeus Stevens, of Pennsylvania; I say Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts; I say Wendell Phillips, of Massachusetts.'
6. After the President had thus publicly stigmatized the opponents of his policy as instigators of a new rebellion, and classed Stevens, Sumner and Wendell Phillips as traitors to be compared with Davis, there could be no hope of reconciliation, and the Republican party grimly settled down to fight for its principles. The first important measure to take effect was the civil rights bi
On the first day of the session Senator Wilson, of Massachusetts, had introduced a bill looking to the personal protection of the freedmen. It was aimed directly at the "black laws" of the Southern States, and declared all laws, statutes, acts, etc., of any description whatsoever, which caused any inequality of civil rights, in consequence of race or color, to be void. In his speech of December 13, 1865, explaining his
McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, pp. 58–63. 2 See Wilson, Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, iii, 684-692; History of Reconstruction, 117–149; Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress, ii, 172-79.
reasons for introducing the bill, Wilson said that, while honest differences as to the expediency of negro suffrage might exist, he could not comprehend "how any humane, just and Christian man can, for a moment, permit the laws that are on the statute-books of the States in rebellion, and the laws that are now pending before their legislatures, to be executed upon men whom we have declared to be free.
To turn these freedmen over to the tender mercies of men who hate them for their fidelity to the country is a crime that will bring the judgment of heaven upon us.”;
This bill and a similar bill introduced by the same senator on December 21, and one introduced by Senator Sumner on the first day of the session, never came to a vote, the last two being postponed indefinitely by the Senate. In place of these bills, Senator Trumbull of Illinois, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, on January 5, 1866, introduced a bill which, slightly amended, became a law. This measure passed the Senate on February 2, was amended and passed by the House on March 13, and the amendments were concurred in by the Senate on the 15th. It was returned to the Senate by the President, without his approval, March 27, and on April 6 the Senate passed the bill over the veto of the President by a vote of 33 to 15. Three days later the House passed the bill by a vote of 122 to 41, and the measure became a law.
As passed it was entitled, “ An Act to protect all persons in the United States in their civil rights, and furnish the means of their vindication.” It first declared "all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed,” to be citizens of the United States. Such citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous servitude, were declared to have the same rights in all the States and Territories, as white citizens, to make
Congressional Globe, ist Session, 39th Congress, pp. 39, 40.
and enforce contracts; to “sue, be parties, and give vidence; to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property;" to enjoy the equal benefit of all laws for the security of person and property, and to be subject only to the same punishments. The second section provided penalties for the deprivation of equal rights. The third gave to the United States courts exclusive cognizance of all causes involving the denial of the rights secured by the first section. The remaining sections specified the powers and duties of the district attorneys, marshals, deputy marshals and special commissioners, in connection with the enforcement of the act, the ninth section providing: “It shall be lawful for the President of the United States, or such person as he may empower for that purpose, to employ such part of the land or naval forces of the United States, or of the militia, as shall be necessary to prevent the violation and enforce the due execution of the Act.”:
From this summary of the act its nature can be seen plainly. Up to this time there had been no legislation affecting the status of the freedman. This declared him to be a citizen of the United States, and thereby entitled to all the privileges of citizenship. The war having resulted in the anomalous condition of the several millions of freedmen, some such legislation was necessary, especially in view of the fact that discriminative legislation was being enacted in the South. The bill was moderate in its terms, the most questionable portion being the section empowering the President to enforce the act through the war department, but even that in the then unsettled condition of the country had much to justify it.
The President's veto message was a lengthy document and discussed in detail the significance of the bill. He
Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 1st Session, McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, pp. 75-8.
and without impairing the efficiency of ministerial officers.
The legislative department of the United States thus takes from the judicial department of the States the sacred and exclusive duty of judicial decision, and converts the State judge into a mere ministerial officer bound to decide according to the will of Congress.” The third section he characterized as undoubtedly comprehending cases and authorizing the "exercise of powers that are not by the Constitution within the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States.” He also considered the extraordinary powers of the numerous officials created by the act as jeopardizing the liberties of the people, and the provisions in regard to fees as liable to bring about persecution and fraud.
In addition to these objections he argued that the bill frustrated the natural adjustment between capital and labor
Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, ist Session, pp. 1679-81; McPherson,
in a way potent to cause discord. It was “an absorption and assumption of power by the General Government which, if acquiesced in, must sap and destroy our federative system of limited powers, and break down the barriers which preserve the rights of the States. ** The tendency of the bill must be to resuscitate the spirit of rebellion, and to arrest the progress of those influences which are closely drawing around the States the bonds of union and peace.”
The next clash between the executive and legislative branches of the government was over the Colorado bill." This bill provided for the admission of Colorado into the Union, and was passed May 3, being vetoed by the President on May 15, in accordance with the policy which he was endeavoring to carry out. The nominal grounds, while strong in themselves, had less weight in Johnson's mind than the argument reserved for the final sentence of the message. This referred to the fact that eleven of the old States were unrepresented in Congress, and that it was in the “common interest of all the States, as well those represented as those unrepresented, that the integrity and harmony of the Union should be restored as completely as possible, so that all those who are expected to bear the burdens of the Federal Government shall be consulted concerning the admission of new States; and that in the mean time no new State shall be prematurely and unnecessarily admitted to a participation in the political power which the Federal Government wields." A second bill for the admission of Colorado was vetoed on January 29, 1867.3 In the message President
Senate Journal, 39th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 431-2; McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, pp. 82–3; Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress, ii, 275-80.
? McPherson, History of the Reconstruction, 81-2; Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, ist Session, 2609.
3 McPherson, 160-164.