Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER IX.

THE CIVIL RIGHTS BILL IN THE SENATE.

DUTY OF CONGRESS CONSEQUENT UPON THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY-CIVIL

RIGHTS BILL INTRODUCED-REFERENCE TO JUDICIARY COMMITTEE-BEFORE THE SENATE–SPEECH BY MR. TRUMBULL-MR. SAULSBURY–MR. VAN WINKLE-MR. COWAN_MR. HOWARD-MR. Johnson---MR. DAVIS-ConVERSATIONS WITH MR. TRUMBULL AND MR. CLARK—REPLY OF MR. JOHNSON-REMARKS BY MR. MORRILL-MR. DAVIS 6

"_MR. GUTHRIE'S SPEECH-MR. HENDRICKS-REPLY OF MR. LANE-MR. WILSONMR. TRUMBULL'S CLOSING REMARKS-YEAS AND NAYS ON THE PASSAGE OF THE BILL.

WOUND UP

[ocr errors]

preceding Congress having proposed an amendment to the Constitution by which slavery should be abolished, and

this amendment having been “ratified by three-fourths of the several States," four millions of the inhabitants of the United States were transformed from slaves into freemen. To leave them with their shackles broken off, unprotected, in a new and undefined position, would have been a sin against them only surpassed in enormity by the original crime of their enslavement.

As provided in the amendment itself, it devolved upon Congress “to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The Thirty-ninth Congress assembled, realizing that it devolved upon them to define the extent of the rights, privileges, and duties of the freedmen. That body was not slow in meeting the full measure of its responsibility.

Immediately on the reässembling of Congress after the holidays, January 5, 1866, Mr. Trumbull, in pursuance of previous notice, introduced a bill “to protect all persons in the United States in their civil rights, and furnish the means of their vindication." This bill, having been read twice, was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

It was highly appropriate that this bill, involving the relations of millions of the inhabitants of the United States to the Government, should be referred to this able committee, selected from among the men of most distinguished legal ability in the Senate. Its members were chosen in consideration of their high professional ability, their long experience, and exalted standing as jurists. They are the legal advisers of the Senate, whose report upon constitutional questions is entitled to the highest consideration.

To such a committee the Senate appropriately referred the Civil Rights Bill, and the nation could safely trust in their hands the great interests therein involved.

The bill declares that “ there shall be no discrimination in civil rights or immunities among the inhabitants of any State or Territory of the United States on account of race, color, or previous condition of slavery ; but the inhabitants, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding. Any person who, under cover of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, shall subject, or cause to be subjected, any inhabitant of any State or Territory to the deprivation of any right secured or protected by the act, or to different punishment, pains, or penalties, on account of such person having at any time been held in a condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, or by reason of his color or race, than is prescribed for the punishment of white persons, is to be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, to be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both, in the discretion of the court.”

Other provisions of the bill relate to the courts which shall have jurisdiction of cases which arise under the act, and the means to be employed in its enforcement.

That no question might arise as to the constitutionality of the law, all the provisions which relate to the enforcement of the act were borrowed from the celebrated Fugitive Slave Law, enacted in 1850. It was a happy thought to compel the enemies of the negro themselves, as judges, to pronounce in favor of the constitutionality of this ordinance. It is an admirable illustration of the progress of the age, that the very instruments which were used a few years before to rivet tighter the chains of the slave, should be employed to break those very chains to fragments. It shall forever stand forth to the honor of American legislation that it attained to more than poetio justice in using the very means once employed to repress and crush the negro for his defense and elevation.

Within less than a week after the reference of this bill to the Judiciary Committee, it was reported back, with no alteration save a few verbal amendments. On account of pressure of other business, it did not come up for formal consideration and discussion in the Senate until the 29th of January. On that day Mr. Trumbull, having called up the bill for the consideration of the Senate, said:

“I regard the bill to which the attention of the Senate is now called, as the most important measure that has been under its consideration since the adoption of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. That amendment declared that all persons in the United States should be free. This measure is intended to give effect to that declaration, and secure to all persons within the United States practical freedom. There is very little importance in the general declaration of abstract truths and principles unless they can be carried into effect, unless the persons who are to be affected by them have some means of availing themselves of their benefits. Of what avail was the immortal declaration 'that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' and 'that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men,' to the millions of the African race in this country who were ground down and degraded, and subjected to a slavery more intolerable and cruel than the world ever before knew? Of what avail was it to the citizen of Massachusetts, who, a few years ago, went to South Carolina to enforce a constitutional right in court, that the Constitution of the United States declared that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States ? And of what avail will it now be that the Constitution of the United States has declared that slavery shall not exist, if in the late slaveholding States laws are to be enacted and enforced depriving persons of African descent of privileges which are essential to freemen?

“It is the intention of this bill to secure those rights. The laws in the slaveholding States have made a distinction against persons of African descent on account of their color, whether free or slave. I have before me the statutes of Mississippi. They provide that if any colored person, any free negro or mulatto, shall come into that State for the purpose of residing there, he shall be sold into slavery for life. If any person of African descent residing in that State travels from one county to another without having a pass or a certificate of his freedom, he is liable to be committed to jail, and to be dealt with as a person who is in the State without authority. Other provisions of the statute prohibit any negro or mulatto from having fire-arms; and one provision of the statute declares that for ' exercising the functions of a minister of the Gospel, free negroes and mulattoes, on conviction, may be punished by any number of lashes not exceeding thirty-nine, on the bare back, and shall pay the costs.” Other provisions of the statute of Mississippi prohibit a free negro or mulatto from keeping a house of entertainment, and subject him to trial before two justices of the peace and five slaveholders for violating the provisions of this law. The statutes of South Carolina make it a highly penal offense for any person, white or colored, to teach slaves; and similar provisions are to be found running through all the statutes of the late slaveholding States.

“When the constitutional amendment was adopted and slavery abolished, all these statutes became null and void, because they were all passed in aid of slavery, for the purpose of maintaining and supporting it. Since the abolition of slavery, the Legislatures which have assembled in the insurrectionary States have passed laws relating to the freedmen, and in nearly all the States they have discriminated against them. They deny them certain rights, subject them to severe penalties, and still impose upon them the very restrictions which were imposed upon them in consequence of the existence of slavery, and before it was abolished.

The purpose of the bill under consideration is to destroy all these discriminations, and to carry into effect the constitutional amendment."

After having stated somewhat at length the grounds upon which he placed this bill, Mr. Trumbull closed by saying: “Most of the provisions of this bill are copied from the late Fugitive Slave Act, adopted in 1850 for the purpose of returning fugitives from slavery into slavery again. The act that was passed at that time for the purpose of punishing persons who should aid negroes to escape to freedom is now to be applied by the provisions of this bill to the punishment of those who shall undertake to keep them in slavery. Surely we have the authority to enact a law as efficient in the interests of freedom, now that freedom prevails throughout the country, as we had in the interest of slavery when it prevailed in a portion of the country.”

Mr. Saulsbury took an entirely different view of the subject under consideration: “I regard this bill," he said, “as one of the most dangerous that was ever introduced into the Senate of the United States, or to which the attention of the American people was ever invited. During the last four or five years, I have sat in this chamber and witnessed the introduction of bills into this body which I thought obnoxious to many very grave and serious constitutional objections; but I have never, since I have been a member of the body, seen a bill so fraught with danger, so full of mischief, as the bill now under consideration.

"I shall not follow the honorable Senator into a consideration of the manner in which slaves were treated in the Southern States, nor the privileges that have been denied to them by the laws of the States. I think the time for shedding tears over the poor slave has well nigh passed in this country. The tears which the honest white people of this couutry have been made to shed from the oppressive acts of this Government, in its various departments, during the last four years, call more loudly for my sympathies than those tears which have been shedding and dropping and dropping for the last twenty years in reference to the poor, oppressed slave dropping from the eyes of strong-minded women and weakminded men, until, becoming a mighty flood, they have swept away, in their resistless 'force, every trace of constitutional liberty in this country.

“I suppose it is a foregone conclusion that this measure, as

« AnteriorContinuar »