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been said, also, on different occasions, with reference to a disposition that is said to prevail now to amend the Constitution, and the forbearance of Congress has been invoked with regard to that venerable and great instrument. I believe that I have as much veneration for the Constitution as most men, and I believe that I have as high an opinion of its wisdom; but, sir, I probably have no better opinion of it than those who made it, and it did not seem to them, as we learn from its very provisions, that it was so perfect that no amendment whatever could be made that would be, in the language of the Senator from Massachusetts, an improvement. Why, sir, they provided themselves, as we all know, in the original instrument, for its amendment. They, in the very earliest days of our history, amended it themselves.”
The result of retaining the “Constitution as it is" would be this : “The continuance of precisely the same rule, and the fostering of a feeling which the honorable Senator from Massachusetts has well proven to be contrary to the very foundation principles of a republican government. There can be no question that such would be the result; and we should have in a portion of the States all the people represented and all the people acting, and in another portion of the States all the people represented and but a portion of the people only exercising political rights and retaining them in their own hands. Such has been the case, and such, judging of human nature as it is, we have a right to suppose will continue to be the case."
The measure proposed by the committee was not entirely satisfactory to Mr. Fessenden. “I am free to confess,” said he," that could I legislate upon that subject, although I can see difficulties that would arise from it, yet trusting to time to soften them, and being desirous, if I can, to put into the Constitution a principle that commends itself to the consideration of every enlightened mind at once, I would prefer something of that sort, a distinct proposition that all provisions in the constitution or laws of any State making any distinction in civil or political rights, or privileges, or immunities whatever, should be held unconstitutional, inoperative, and void, or words to that effect. I would like that much better; and I take it there are not many Senators within the sound of my voice who would not very much prefer it; but, after all, the committee did not recommend a provision of that description, and I stand here as the organ of the committee, approving what they have done, and not disposed to urge my own peculiar views, if I have any, against theirs, or to rely exclusively on my own judgment so far as to denounce what honorable and true men, of better judgments than myself, have thought best to recommend, and in which I unite and agree with them.”
After having given objections to limiting the basis of representation to voters, Mr. Fessenden remarked: “And if you extend it to citizens, or narrow it to citizens, you make it worse so far as many of the States are concerned; for my honorable friends from the Pacific coast, where there is a large number of foreigners, would hardly be willing to have them cut off; and they have no benefit of political power in the legislation of the country arising from the number of those foreigners who make a portion of their population. The difficulty is, that you meet with troubles of this kind every-where the moment you depart from the principle of basing representation upon population and population alone. You meet with inequalities, with difficulties, with troubles, either in one section of the country or the other, and you are inevitably thrown back upon the original principle of the Constitution.
“It will be noticed that the amendment which we have thus presented has one good quality: it preserves the original basis of representation; it leaves that matter precisely where the Constitution placed it in the first instance; it makes no changes in that respect; it violates no prejudice; it violates no feeling. Every State is represented according to its population with this distinction: that if a State says that it has a portion, a class, which is not fit to be represented and it is for the State to decide-it shall not be represented; that is all. It has another good point: it is equal in its operation; all persons in every State are to be counted'; nobody is to be rejected. With the very trifling exception fixed by the original Constitution, all races, colors, nations, languages, and denominations form the basis.
But, sir, the great excellence of it-and I think it is an excellence—is, that it accomplishes indirectly what we may not have the power to accomplish directly. If we can not put into the Constitution, owing to existing prejudices and existing institutions, an entire exclusion of all class distinctions, the next ques tion is, can we accomplish that work in any other way ?”
Concerning the “counter-propositioni ” of Mr. Sumner, the speaker said ; "It is, in one sense, like a very small dipper with
a very long handle ; for the preamble is very much more diffuse than the proposed enactment itself. I looked to see what came next. I supposed that after that preamble we should have some adequate machinery provided for the enforcement and security of these rights; that we should have the matter put to the courts, and if the courts could not accomplish it, that we should have the aid of the military power, thus shocking the sensibilities of my honorable friend from Indiana (Mr. Hendricks] again. I do not know what good it does to merely provide by law that the provisions of the Constitution shall be enforced, without saying how, in what manner, by what machinery, in what way, to what extent, or how it is to be accomplished. Why reënact the Constitution of the United States and put it in a bill? What do you accomplish by it? How is that a remedy? It is simply as if it read in this way: Whereas, it is provided in the Constitution that the United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government, therefore we declare that there shall be a republican form of government and nothing
Mr. Sumner had said, in his speech in opposition to the proposed amendment, “ Above all, do not copy the example of Pontius Pilate, who surrendered the Savior of the world, in whom he found no fault at all, to be scourged and crucified, while he set at large Barabbas, of whom the Gospel says, in simple words, 'Now, Barabbas was a robber." »
To this Mr. Fessenden responded : “Is it a 'mean compromise'--for so it is denominated that the Committee of Fifteen and the House of Representatives, when they passed it, placed themselves in the situation of Pontius Pilate, with the negro for the Savior of the world and the people of the United States for Barabbas, as designated by the honorable Senator. Why, sir, I expected to hear him in the next breath go further than that, and say that with the Constitution of the United States and the constitutions of the States the negro had been crucified, and that now, by the amendment of the Constitution, the stone had been rolled away from the door of the sepulcher, and he had ascended to sit on the throne of the Almighty and judge the world! One would have been, permit me to say with all respect, in as good taste as the other."
In conclusion, Mr. Fessenden said: "I wish to say, in closing, that I commend this joint resolution to the careful consideration of the Senate. It is all that we could desire; it is all that our constituents could wish. It does not accomplish, as it stands now, all, perhaps, that it might accomplish ; but it is an important step in the right direction. It gives the sanction of Congress, in so many words, to an important, leading, effective idea. It opens a way by which the Southern mind to speak of it as the Southern mind-may be led to that which is right and just. I have hopes, great hopes, of those who were recently Confederates ; and I believe that now that they have been taught that they can not do evil, to all the extent that they might desire, with impunity, and when their attention is turned of necessity in the right direction, the road will seem so pleasant to their feet, or, at any rate, will seem so agreeable to their love of power, that they will be willing to walk in the direction that we have pointed. If they do, what is accomplished? In process of time, under this constitutional amendment, if it should be adopted, they are led to enlarge their franchise. That necessarily will lead them to consider how much further they can go, what is necessary in order to fit their people for its exercise, thus leading to education, thus leading to a greater degree of civilization, thus bringing up an oppressed and downtrodden race to an equality, if capable of an equality—and I hope it may be-with their white brethren, children of the same Father.
And, sir, if this is done, some of us may hope to live-I probably may not, but the honorable Senator from Massachusetts may—to see the time when, by their own act, and under the effect of an enlightened study of their own interests, all men may be placed upon the same broad constitutional level, enjoying the same rights, and seeking happiness in the same way and under the same advantages; and that is all that we could ask.”
On the following day, the discussion was continued by Mr. Lane, of Indiana, who addressed the Senate in a speech of two hours' duration. Mr. Lane seldom occupied the time of the Senate by speech-making, but when he felt it his duty to speak, none upon the floor attracted more marked attention, both from the importance of his matter and the impressiveness of his
Much of Mr. Lane's speech, on this occasion, was devoted to the general subject of reconstruction, since he regarded the pending measure as one of a series looking to the ultimate restoration of the late rebel States. He was opposed to undue haste in this important work. He said: “The danger is of precipitate action. Delay is now what we need. The infant in its tiny fingers plays to-day with a handful of acorns, but two hundred years hence, by the efflux of time, those acorns are the mighty material out of which navies are built, the monarch of the forest, defying the shock of the storm and the whirlwind. Time is a mighty agent in all these affairs, and we should appeal to time. We are not ready yet for a restoration upon rebel votes; we are not ready yet for a restoration upon colored votes; but, thank God! we are willing and able to wait. We have the Government, we have the Constitution of the United States, we have the army and the navy, the vast moral and material power of the republic. We can enforce the laws in all the rebel States, and we can keep the peace until such time as they may be restored with safety to them and safety to us.
Of the measure proposed by the committee, Mr. Lane remarked: “This amendment, as I have already endeavored to show, will do away with much of the irregularity now existing, and which would exist under a different state of things, the blacks being all free. So far as the amendment goes, I approve of it, and I think I shall vote for it, but with a distinct understanding that it is not all that we are required to do, that it is not the only amendment to the Constitution that Congress is required to make.”
Mr. Lane expressed his opinion of Mr. Sumner's “counterproposition" in the following language: “It is a noble declaration, but a simple declaration, a paper bullet that kills no one, and fixes and maintains the rights of no one."
Of Mr. Henderson's proposition, he said: “It is a simple amendment to the Constitution of the United States, that no one shall be excluded from the exercise of the right of suffrage on account of race or color. That begins at the right point. The only objection to it is, that its operation can not be immediate, and in the mean time the rebels may be permitted to vote, and its adoption by the various State Legislatures is exceedingly doubtful. I should not doubt, however, that we might secure its adoption by three-fourths of the loyal States who have never seceded; and I believe that whenever that question is presented.