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THE RIGHT TO VOTE.
"nor make discrimination among the citizens of the State itself in the exercise of the right of suffrage ?"'1
The reason, replied Boutwell, was the plainest in the world: the clause was not necessary.
The article as it stood provided that there could be no discrimination by the States among the citizens of the United States, who are as well citizens of the several States and are equally entitled to all the privileges of citizens. Moreover, the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment, on the apportionment of representatives, clearly showed, when taken in connection with what preceded it, how wholly without support was the doctrine that any State could abridge, or deny to a citizen, the right to vote. The penalty for doing so clearly intimated the nature of the denial. Kentucky, , Maryland and Delaware, before the adoption of the amendment, denied the negro the right to vote, and for that reason they, and other States, it declared, should suffer in representation. Power was given to Congress to remedy the evil, and that power Congress was now invoked to adopt a distinct suffrage amendment. If the doctrine could be successfully maintained, that Congress could not legislate on the subject, the General Government would be put in an anomalous and inconsistent position. There were citizens in Kentucky and Maryland who, if the doctrine now set forth by the opponents of the proposed amendment was sound, were eligible to the office of President or Vice-President of the United States, and yet could not vote for representatives in Congress, or even for State, county or town officers. By the Constitution of the United States, a negro could be legally qualified for the Presidency, yet a State government might deny him the right to vote. The object of the proposed amendment was to
1 The question was by James B. Beck, a representative from Kentucky. Globe, 559.
A SUFFRAGE AMENDMENT JUSTIFIABLE.
secure universal suffrage to all the adult male citizens of the United States. The power to pass it was clearly in the hands of Congress, and, as Boutwell and his political associates declared, it was in the hands of a Congress responsible to the Republican party, now in control of the Government.
There were but twenty-five States which could be relied on to ratify a suffrage amendment at this time; therefore three others must be secured. In entering upon the work of carrying through the amendment, the Republicans must expect prejudice and traditional opposition to negro suffrage. Nine-tenths of the party were in favor of manhood suffrage; it was the remaining tenth which constituted the great obstacle in the way of perfecting the measure. The great majority of the people, who on the third of November had supported General Grant for the Presidency, expected Congress to consummate this suffrage plan. The proposed amendment would secure the people against any abridgment of their electoral power, either by the United States or by the States. This, said Boutwell, was a sufficient reason to justify its adoption. Having given the colored people in the States the power to vote, Congress would have created an element by which the amendment could be carried. In the northern and border States one hundred and fifty thousand citizens of the United States were still disfranchised. If the bill before the House became a law, these would be entitled to the right to vote and would rally to the support of the amendment, if enfranchised by the law.?
1 Globe, 560.
2 The number of negroes excluded from the franchise at this time were 1,700 in Connecticut, 10,000 in New York, 5,000 in New Jersey, 14,000 in Pennsylvania, 7,000 in Ohio, 24,000 in Missouri, 45,000 in Kentucky, 4,000 in Delaware, 35,0 in Maryland. Mr. Boutwell, Congressional Globe, January 23, 1869, p. 561.
If one hundred and fifty thousand black men could be disfranchised in ten States and a hundred, or a thousand, be made naturalized citizens in Rhode Island, where was the public safety? The foreigners naturalized in the country were at this time opposed to negro suffrage. If they saw that their own class might be disfranchised, what better security had they than the negro, who, as in Maryland, could not vote? Foreigners might at some day desire to settle in South Carolina, the majority of whose people were negroes. In view of the contingency that a State might disfranchise Irishmen, Germans or Scandinavians, would these foreign-born citizens hesitate in this crisis, when they had the power to settle the great question of human rights, not merely for negroes, but for white men, whether native or naturalized? There was no security while the great wrong of partial suffrage continued. But did Boutwell's amendment go far enough? Would it prevent any State from requiring a property or educational qualification of its voters ? Several amendments were proposed to remedy this effect, their common purpose being to prevent the exclusion of any male citizen, twenty-one years of age or over, from the right to vote, for any cause, except crime.2
1 These were by James Brooks of New York, on the 23d of January; Globe, p. 561; John A. Bingham of Ohio, on the 27th; Globe, p. 638; Hamilton Ward of New York, Id.; Samuel Shellabarger of Ohio, Id. p. 639.
2 As in Mr. Shellabarger's substitute: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall deny or abridge to any male citizen of the United States of the age of 21 years or over, and who is of sound mind, an equal vote at the elections in the States in which he shall have such actual residence as shall be prescribed by law, except to such as have engaged or may engage hereafter in insurrection or rebellion against the United States and to such as shall be duly convicted of treason, felony or other infamous crime."
In urging his substitute for the Boutwell amendment Shellabarger, of Ohio, warned his fellow members against any act which might legalize the disfranchisement of the vast body of negroes at the South. If the amendment was made so that this could be done, it would be done, and loyal State governments in the late Confederate States would be instantly made impossible. Though Congress might say peace, the ugly fact would remain as stern, relentless and terrible as ever, that the rebel and master race at the South were not lovers of the Union, but of the “lost cause." While now they might mean submission, because they saw hope in no other course, yet Congress might so amend the Constitution as practically to put the loyal people of the Southern States under the mastery of those who mourned for that cause. The Boutwell amendment would enable them to disfranchise most of the colored people, by excluding a man from the ballot because he could not read. For centuries the colored race had been shut out from the light, and because for centuries they had been stolen property, they were poor; therefore, an educational or property qualification would practically disfranchise them: a prophecy which was duly fulfilled thirty years later.2
But this was not the only defect in the proposed amendment. It added to the mischief which it aimed to remedy; for, by prohibiting a State from exercising the power of disfranchisement only on account of race, color
1 The reconstruction constitution of Mississippi of 1868 forbade an educational qualification.
2 This has been done in Mississippi by educational qualification, Article XII, Sections 241-242, constitution of 1890. In South Carolina by registry and property qualification, constitution of 1895, Article II, Sections 2-12; and in Louisiana by the constitution of 1898. See Official Journal of the Louisiana Convention, 1898, pp. 381-382.
or previous condition of slavery, it plainly led to the inference that the State was authorized to disfranchise upon any other grounds than those three, and, upon the well-known and universally recognized principle of law expressio unius exclusio alterius. Congress would thus make the Constitution worse, and hand the power of disfranchisement over to the States. The United States, having parted with all control over it, would surrender to the States the complete sovereignty over any matter essential to the very being of the National Government. The plainest elementary principle of free government demanded that there should be a "federal definition of federal electorship.” Some of the Republican members feared that the time was inopportune for submitting the amendment. After reviewing the condition of the country, Shellabarger drew the conclusion that, on the contrary, it was the only time which could happen for years when Congress would have the favorable two-thirds for action; and, as its reconstruction laws had been accepted as permanent by the country and it had required the reconstructed States to submit to equal suffrage, it had control over the South, which, however temporary, would make the adoption of the proposed amendment secure. Either it must let the South disfranchise the colored race at will, or enfranchise the race itself; or compel the States to submit to a rule of elective franchise which it laid down. Because the measure was just, all the energies of good men throughout the land would be on its side, and its adoption might be confidently expected."
The debate had developed two facts: a general agreement that it was desirable to submit a suffrage amendment; and a great difference of opinion respecting its provisions. The southern and border-State members gen
1 Appendix to the Globe, January 29, 1869, 91-100.