« AnteriorContinuar »
would not meet with Executive approval, and not supposing that a vote of two-thirds could be secured for its passage over the President's veto, determined not to urge it immediately through the Senate.
There was great reluctance on the part of many Senators and members of the House to come to an open rupture with the President. They desired to defer the day of final and irreconcilable difference between Congress and the Executive. If the subject of negro suffrage in the District of Columbia was kept in abeyance for a time, it was hoped that the President's approval might meanwhile be secured to certain great measures for protecting the helpless and maintaining the civil rights of citizens. To accomplish these important ends, the suffrage bill was deferred many months. The will of the majority in Congress relating to this subject did not become a law until after the opening of the second session of the Thirty-ninth Congress.
NECESSITIES OF THE FREEDMEN-COMMITTEE IN THE HOUSE-EARLY MOVE
MENT BY THE SENATE IN BEHALF OF FREEDMEN—SENATOR WILSON'S BILLOCCASION FOR IT—MR. COWAN MOVES ITS REFERENCE-MR. REVERDY JOHNSON ADVISES DELIBERATION- A QUESTION OF TIME WITH MR. SHERMAN_MR. TRUMBULL PROMISES A MORE EFFICIENT BILL-MR. SUMNER PRESENTS PROOF OF THE BAD CONDITION OF AFFAIRS IN THE SOUTH-MR. COWAN AND MR. STEWART PRODUCE THE PRESIDENT AS A WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE--MR. WILSON ON THE TESTIMONY" CONSERVATISM”-THE BILL
-THE BILL ABSORBED IN
HE necessities of three millions and a half of persons made
free as a result of the rebellion demanded early and efficient
legislation at the hands of the Thirty-ninth Congress. In vain did the Proclamation of Emancipation break their shackles, and the constitutional amendment declare them free, if Congress should not "enforce" these important acts by "appropriate legislation."
The House of Representatives signified its view of the importance of this subject by constituting an able Committee Freedmen,” with Thomas D. Eliot, of Massachusetts, as its chairman. The Senate, however, was first to take decided steps toward the protection and relief of freedmen. We have seen that on the first day of the session Senator Wilson, of Massachusetts, introduced a bill “ to maintain the freedom of the inhabitants in the States declared in insurrection and rebellion by the proclamation of the President of the 1st of July, 1862," of which the following is a copy :
Be it enacted, etc., That all laws, statutes, acts, ordinances, rules and regulations, of any description whatsoever, heretofore in force or held valid in any of the States which were declared to be in insurrection and rebellion by the proclamation of the President of the 1st of July, 1862, whereby or wherein any inequality of civil rights and immunities among the inhabitants of said States is recognized, authorized, established, or maintained, by reason or in consequence of any distinctions or differences of color, race, or descent, or by reason or in consequence of a previous condition or status of slavery or involuntary servitude of such inhabitants, be, and are hereby, declared null and void; and it shall be unlawful to institute, make, ordain, or establish, in any of the aforesaid States declared to be in insurrection and rebellion, any such law, statute, act, ordinance, rule, or regulation, or to enforce, or to attempt to enforce, the same.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That any person who shall violate either of the provisions of this act shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $500 nor exceeding $10,000, and by imprisonment not less than six months nor exceeding five years; and it shall be the duty of the President to enforce the provisions of this act.
On the 13th of December, Mr. Wilson called up his bill, which the Senate proceeded to consider as in Committee of the Whole. The author of the bill presented reasons why it should become a law: "A bill is pending before the Legislature of South Carolina making these freedmen servants, proyiding that the persons for whom they labor shall be their masters; that the relation between them shall be the relation of master and servant. The bill, as originally reported, provided that the freedmen might be educated, but that provision has already been stricken out, and the bill now lies over waiting for events here. That bill makes the colored people of South Carolina serfs, a degraded class, the slaves of society. It is far better to be the slave of one man than to be the slave of arbitrary law. There is no doubt of the fact that in a great portion of those States the high hopes, the confidence, and the joy expressed last spring by the freedmen, have passed away; that silence and sorrow pervade that section of the country, and that they are becoming distrustful and discontented. God grant that the high-raised expectations of these loyal and deserted people may not be blasted. God forbid that we should violate our plighted faith.”
Mr. Cowan moved the reference of the bill to the Committee on the Judiciary, but its author was unwilling that it should be so referred, since it was highly important that action should be had upon it before the holidays.
Mr. Johnson said that the bill gave rise to grave questions on which it was very desirable that the deliberation of the Senate should be very calmly advised. He objected on the ground of its indefiniteness: “There are no particular laws designated in the bill to be repealed. All laws existing before these States got into a condition of insurrection, by which any difference or inequality is created or established, are to be repealed. What is to be the effect of that repeal upon such laws as they exist? In some of those States, by the constitution or by the laws, (and the constitution is equally a law,) persons of the African race are excluded from certain political privileges. Are they to be repealed, and at once, by force of that repeal, are they to be placed exactly upon the same footing in regard to all political privileges with that which belongs to the other class of citizens? Very many of those laws are laws passed under the police - power, which has always been conceded as a power belonging to the States—laws supposed to have been necessary in order to protect the States themselves from insurrection. Are they to be repealed absolutely ?
“No man feels more anxious certainly than I do that the rights incident to the condition of freedom, which is now as I personally am glad to believe, the condition of the black race, should not be violated; but I do not know that there is any more pressing need for extraordinary legislation to prevent outrages upon that class, by any thing which is occurring in the Southern States, than there is for preventing outrages in the loyal States. Crimes are being perpetrated every day in the very justly-esteemed State from which the honorable member comes. Hardly a paper fails to give us an account of some most atrocious and horrible crime. Murders shock the sense of that community and the sense of the United States very often; and it is not peculiar to Massachusetts. Moral by her education, and loving freedom and hating injustice ás much as the people of any other State, she yet is unable to prevent a violation of every principle of human rights, but we are not for that reason to legislate for her.”
Mr. Wilson replied: “The Senator from Maryland says that cruelties and great crimes are committed in all sections of the country. I know it; but we have not cruel and inhuman laws to be enforced. Sir, armed men are traversing portions of the rebel States to-day enforcing these black laws upon men whom we have made free, and to whom we stand pledged before man and God to maintain their freedom. A few months ago these freedmen were joyous, hopeful, confident. To-day they are distrustful, silent, and sad, and this condition has grown out of the wrongs and
cruelties and oppressions that have been perpetrated upon them.”
Mr. Sherman said: “I believe it is the duty of Congress to give to the freedmen of the Southern States ample protection in all their natural rights. With me it is a question simply of time and manner. I submit to the Senator of Massachusetts whether this is the time for the introduction of this bill. I believe it would be wiser to postpone all action upon this subject until the proclamation of the Secretary of State shall announce that the constitutional amendment is a part of the supreme law of the land. When that is done, there will then be, in my judgment, no doubt of the power of Congress to pass this bill, and to make it definite and general in its terms.
“Then, as I have said, it is a question of manner. When this question comes to be legislated upon by Congress, I do not wish it to be left to the uncertain and ambiguous language of this bill. I think that the rights which we desire to secure to the freedmen of the South should be distinctly specified.
“ The language of this bill is not sufficiently definite and distinct to inform the people of the United States of precisely the character of rights intended to be secured by it to the freedmen of the Southern States. The bill in its terms applies only to those States which were declared to be in instrrection; and the same criticism would apply to this part of it that I have already made, that it is not general in its terms."
Mr. Trumbull made some remarks of great significance, as foreshadowing important measures soon to occupy the attention of Congress and the country:
“I hold that under that second section Congress will have the authority, when the constitutional amendment is adopted, not only to pass the bill of the Senator from Massachusetts, but a bill that will be much more efficient to protect the freedman in his rights. We may, if deemed advisable, continue the Freedman's Bureau, clothe it with additional powers, and, if necessary, back it up with a military force, to see that the rights of the men made free by the first clause of the constitutional amendment are protected. And, sir, when the constitutional amendment shall have been adopted, if the information from the South be that the men whose liberties are secured by it are deprived of the privilege to go and come when they please, to buy and sell when they