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BY HON. SCHU YLER COLFAX,
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.
HE CONGRESS that has just passed away has written a
record that will be long remembered by the poor and friendless, whom it did not forget. Misrepresented or misunderstood by those who denounced it as enemies, harshly and unjustly criticised by some who should have been its friends, it proved itself more faithful to human progress and liberty than any of its predecessors. The outraged and oppressed found in these congressional halls champions and friends. Its key-note of policy was protection to the down-trodden. It quailed not before the mightiest, and neglected not the obscurest. It lifted the slave, whom the nation had freed, to the full stature of manhood. It placed on our statute-book the Civil Rights Bill as our nation's magna charta, grander than all the enactments that honor the American code; and in all the region whose civil governments had been destroyed by a vanquished rebellion, it declared as a guarantee of defense to the weakest that the freeman's hand should wield the freeman's ballot; and that none but loyal men should govern a land which loyal sacrifices had saved. Taught by inspiration that new wine could not be safely put in old bottles, it proclaimed that there could be no safe or loyal reconstruction on a foundation of unrepentant treason and disloyalty.
The first session of the Thirty-ninth Congress proposed, as their plan of Reconstruction, a Constitutional Amendment. It was a bond of public justice and public safety combined, to be embodied in our national Constitution, to show to our posterity that patriotism is a virtue and rebellion is a crime. These terms were more magnanimous than were ever offered in any country under like circumstances. They were kind, they were forbearing, they were less than we had a right to demand; but in our anxiety, in our desire to close up this question, we made the proposition. How was it received? They trampled upon it, they spat upon it, they repudiated it, and said they would have nothing to do with it. They were determined to have more power after the rebellion than they had before.
When this proposition was repudiated, we came together again, at the second session of the same Congress, to devise some other plan of reconstruction in place of the proffer that had been spurned. We put the basis of our reconstruction, first, upon every loyal man in the South, and then we gave the ballot also to every man who had only been a traitor. The persons we excluded, for the present, from suffrage in the South, were not the thousands who struggled in the rebel army, not the millions who had given their adhesion to it, but only those men who had sworn allegiance to the Constitution and then added to treason the crime of perjury.
Though we demand no indemnity for the past, no banishment, no confiscations, no penalties for the offended law, there is one thing we do demand, there is one thing we have the power to demand, and that is security for the future, and that we intend to have, not only in legislation, but imbedded in the imperishable bulwarks of our national Constitution, against which the waves of secession may dash in future but in vain. We intend to have those States reconstructed on such enduring corner-stones that posterity shall realize that our fallen heroes have not died in vain.
THE THIRTY-NINTH CONGRESS.
MOMENTOUS EVENTS OF THE VACATION--OPENING OF THE SENATE-MR
WADE-MR. SUMNER—MR. Wilson-Mr. HARRIS_EDWARD MCPHERSON As CLERK OF THE PRECEDING CONGRESS, HE CALLS THE HOUSE TO ORDERINTERRUPTION OF ROLL-CALL BY MR. MAYNARD-REMARKS BY MR. BROOKS His COLLOQUY WITH MR. STEVENS—MR. COLFAX ELECTED SPEAKER-His INAUGURAL ADDRESS—THE TEST OATH.
Thirty-ninth Congress of the United States, convened in the Capitol at Washington on the fourth of December,
1865. Since the adjournment of the Thirty-eighth Congress, events of the greatest moment had transpired-events which invested its successor with responsibilities unparalleled in the history of any preceding legislative body.
Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, had been slain by the hand of the assassin. The crime had filled the land with horror. The loss of its illustrious victim had veiled the nation in unaffected grief.
By this great national calamity, Andrew Johnson, who on the fourth of March preceding had taken his seat simply to preside over the deliberations of the Senate, became President of the United States.
Meanwhile the civil war, which had been waged with such terrible violence and bloodshed for four years preceding, came to a sudden termination. The rebel armies, under Generals Lee and Johnston, had surrendered to the victorious soldiers
of the United States, who in their generosity had granted to the vanquished terms so mild and easy as to excite universal surprise.
Jefferson Davis, Alexander H. Stephens, and some other leaders in the rebellion, had been captured and held for a time as State prisoners; but, at length, all save the “President of the Confederate States” were released on parole, and finally pardoned by the President.
The President had issued a proclamation granting amnesty. and pardon to “all who directly or indirectly participated in the rebellion, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves," on condition of their subscribing to a prescribed oath. By the provisions of this proclamation, fourteen classes of persons were excepted from the benefits of the amnesty offered therein, and yet "any person belonging to the excepted classes” was encouraged to make special application to the President for pardon, to whom clemency, it was declared, would “be liberally extended." In compliance with this invitation, multitudes had obtained certificates of pardon from the President, some of whom were at once elected by the Southern people, to represent them, as Senators and Representatives, in the Thirtyninth Congress.
The President had, further carried on the work of reconstruction by appointing Provisional Governors for many of the States lately in rebellion. He had recognized and entered into communication with the Legislatures of these States, prescribing certain terms on which they might secure representation in Congress, and recognition of "all their rights under the Constitution."
By these and many other events which had transpired since the expiration of the preceding Congress, the legislation pertaining to reconstruction had become a work of vast complexity, involving principles more profound, and questions more difficult, than ever before presented for the consideration and solution of men assembled in a legislative capacity.
At twelve o'clock on the day designated in the Constitution for the meeting of Congress, the Senate assembled, and was called to order by Hon. Lafayette S. Foster, President pro tempore. Senators from twenty-five States were in their seats, and answered to their names. Rev. E. H. Gray, Chaplain of the Senate, in