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erally opposed the idea of permanently disfranchising those who had participated in the rebellion. The difficulty of providing against every evil which might arise from the administration of the law of suffrage in the southern States was clear to all. If the amendment substantially secured the principle, that the States did not absolutely control the question of suffrage, and, further, that by the fundamental law of the land the right could not be denied to the negro, it was enough. To load down the amendment with details would insure its rejection. Massachusetts, at this time, required an educational and Rhode Island a property qualification of the voters. If the amendment forbade a State to impose such qualifications, it might confidently be expected that both these New England States would refuse to ratify. The people of New York, recently, by a large majority of over thirty thousand, had refused to abolish a discriminating property qualification for negro voters.?
The fate of the amendment, therefore, would depend upon its simplicity, and conciseness and its direct application to the African race. The House refused to lay the Boutwell resolution on the table,3 and also to accept the amendments offered by Shellabarger and others;4 and,
1 To vote in Massachusetts the person must be able to "read the Constitution in the English language and write his name.” Constitution, Article XX; amendment of 1857. In Rhode Island the voter was required to have paid a tax assessed upon property at the value of at least $134, which he possessed in his own right. Constitution of 1842, Article II, Sections 1 and 2. On the 4th of April, 1888, the constitution was amended so that this provision applied only to electors of city councilmen.
2 For the account of the suffrage agitations in New York, at this time, see pp. 172, 173, (note) 339, 340.
8 January 30, 1869, by a vote of 131 to 41; Globe, 742.
4 Mr. Ward's amendment rejected by a vote of 160 to 24; Mr. Shellabarger's, by 126 to 61; Globe, 744.
THE AMENDMENT IN THE SENATE.
with a slight verbal change, passed the Boutwell resolution by a vote of one hundred and fifty to forty-two.
The Senate took up the House resolution on the third of February.2 Senator Stewart, of Nevada, acting under the instruction of the Committee on the Judiciary, of which he was chairman, moved to amend the resolution by striking out the whole of its first section and substituting the provision that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Williams of Oregon wished to insert "natural born” before citizens; Buckalew of Pennsylvania would have the submission of the amendment to the legislatures delayed until the people had chosen new Houses of Assembly; Howard of Michigan thought the language still too vague, and would have it express plainly, that citizens of the United States of African descent should have the same right to vote and hold office as other citizens; Corbett of Oregon would exclude Chinamen not born in this country and Indians not taxed; and Fowler, of Tennessee, would permanently exclude from voting and from office all citizens who had engaged in rebellion or insurrection.
The substitute for the House resolution recommended by the Judiciary Committee in no wise changed the issue, which, primarily, was a question of sovereignty. Should
1 Globe, p. 745.
2 The Resolution as it passed the House read: Section 1. The right of any citizen of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of race, color, or previous condition of slavery of any citizen or class of citizens of the United States. Section 2. That Congress shall have power to enforce, by proper legislation, the provisions of this article.
8 Globe, 828.
A QUESTION OF SOVEREIGNTY.
the elective franchise be regulated by the United States or by the several States ? The difficulties in the way of the amendment, whether expressed in the language of the House or that of the Senate Committee, were serious and of long standing. The negro, save for a brief time in Tennessee, and for a slightly longer period in North Carolina, had never been a voter, in a southern State, and by the constitutional limitation of the right to white male citizens he was excluded from the franchise in all the northern States except four. Senators might well pause before venturing to propose to their constituents so radical a change in the fundamental law. Would Connecticut, a State whose constitution and laws explicitly excluded the black man from the right of suffrage, ratify an amendment which gave him both the right to vote and to hold office? Would any northern State, which, like Michigan and New York, had recently voted on the question of the extension of the suffrage to the negro on equal terms with the white man, now nullify that vote by ratifying the amendment? Was Congress justified in hoping that the States north of the Ohio, which had for years been unfriendly, if not hostile, to the free negro, would now bury their hostility and admit him to the right of suffrage and to hold office ?
The minority in Congress, the Democratic members, confidently asserted that, if the amendment was made an issue at the polls it would be overwhelmingly defeated, and this confidence lay at the bottom of Senator Buckalew's proposition. The new members of assembly, fresh from the people would, he thought, undoubtedly regard their sentiments by voting the amendment down. Most of the State legislatures North and South at this time were Republican in both branches, and the Republicans in Congress were anxious to submit the amendment to them as
THE TIME IS SHORT.
soon as possible. Thaddeus Stevens, during the debate on the Fourteenth Amendment, had repeatedly warned the House that the great work must be done at once, as the time was at hand when the Republican phalanx in both Houses would be broken, and ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment be impossible. The risk of defeat was greater now than when Stevens had spoken, for already that counter-revolution had set in, whose current, in a few years, was to sweep the Republicans from power, in the South, in many States at the North, and from Congress. Whatever was to be done in extending the suffrage to the negro must, therefore, be done quickly.
The whole purpose of the amendment was well expressed in the substitute which Senator Howard had suggested, that citizens of the United States of African descent should have the same right to vote and hold office as other citizens. Senator Morton, of Indiana, voiced the fears of many of his party when he said, that the language of the Stewart amendment could be practically disobeyed without establishing either a property qualification or an educational test. Like the makers of the Constitution, he was averse to putting the word "color" into it, or making any reference to slavery. In abolishing the institution, it had been necessary to be explicit, and the word "slavery” could not be avoided in the Thirteenth Amendment. Might not a State debar the negro from voting under the claim that he was deficient in natural intelligence, or incapable of improvement, or incompetent to take part in the administration of government? The whole provision of the proposed amendment might thus be overruled. For these reasons Senator Morton urged an affirmative definition of the suffrage somewhat as Howard of Michigan had suggested."
1 Globe, 863.
Though, at first thought, a definition of this kind seems easy to make, a little reflection will disclose the almost insuperable difficulties in the way. No affirmative definition, affecting such composite interests as the exercise of the suffrage and the right of candidacy for office in a dual government like our own, could possibly anticipate the changes of time. Clearly a positive definition must sooner or later become obsolete. It would be better to assert the power of Congress to regulate the right to vote or to hold office in any State, and thus keep the whole matter within the control of the National Government. This was suggested by Senator Williams of Oregon. The amendment reported by the Committee on the Judiciary touched the suffrage question only in one aspect, he said, whereas Congress ought not to confine its vision to the present but look as far as possible into the future. Frequent changes in the fundamental law should be avoided, as they tended to destroy veneration and respect for it among the people. To guard against any violence to the rights of the African race,--and they were the immediate subject of the amendment,—the National Government should plainly reserve the right to interpose at any time on their behalf. An amendment to this effect would anticipate all possible contingencies and place the control of the franchise and all candidacy for office in the hands of the National Government.
But Senator Williams's proposition practically would change the basis of the suffrage, which, hitherto, had been exclusively under the control of the States, each acting for itself. Was the country prepared to authorize so radical a departure? Were the people of the several States willing to reverse their political practice and transfer the control of the suffrage to Congress? The Democratic mem
1 Globe, pp. 864, 899,