Harper's Weekly 02/10/1866


THE PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL
AMENDMENT.


WE have a very high respect for the ad-
mirable services of Mr. Thaddeus Ste-
vens,
and for the earnestness with which he
holds opinions in which we do not always
agree; but Mr. Stevens lacks some important
qualifications as a parliamentary leader. He
is too fond of snap judgments at a time when
the utmost deliberation is required. He does
not understand the intention of the motion for
the previous question. Its object is not to stifle
discussion, but to save time when debate is
clearly exhausted. Yet when the Reconstruc-
tion Committee reported a constitutional amend-
ment of the utmost gravity, and before the
House could have a chance of consideration,
or the country of declaring itself, he threat-
ened the call of the previous question. Had
he persisted a very serious mischief would have
been done. As it is, the House will be wary
hereafter.


The amendment reported is substantially
that of Mr. Blaine. It proposes, in substance,
to apportion representation to the whole num-
ber of the population, excepting those who may
be disfranchised by reason of race or color. In
effect, it is a bribe of increased political power
offered to the late Slave States to induce them
to give political equality to their colored popu-
lation. It is one of the innumerable indirect
methods suggested to reach a result which is
now gradually seen to be virtually indispensa-
ble to the successful reorganization of the late
rebel States; but which, we think, will at last
be attained by simpler and directer means.


Mr. Jenckes, of Rhode Island, and Mr.
Eliot, of Massachusetts, have indicated very
distinctly and forcibly the objections to the
adoption of the amendment. It admits, by
implication, that States may disfranchise be-
cause of race or color, and that is something
of which Congress should not be guilty. Then
it enables a State to exclude large masses of its
population of all colors by a property qualifica-
tion, thus establishing an oligarchy where Con-
gress is bound to secure a republican form of
government. By merely omitting the word
“white” in their present laws defining the
electoral qualification, many of the States could
still enjoy their present superiority of repre-
sentation. In South Carolina, for instance,
more than half of the population is colored.
But the colored population are not property-
holders. Nothing is easier than for the State
to retain its law of a property qualification, by
which more than half of the population would
be excluded from the polls while they would be
counted in the basis of representation. Yet if the
amendment which authorizes or protects such
legislation should pass, Congress would have
virtually decided that such an exclusion is re-
publican. There is still another objection,
which is this—that while the object of the
amendment is to protect colored citizens by
giving them the vote, the feeling of caste in the
unorganized States is so strong that they would
probably be willing to submit to the lessened
representation as the price of obtaining the
complete control of the freedmen—a result
which is to be resisted to the last by every hon-
orable American.


The amendment, as it stands, will probably
not pass—at least, we sincerely hope it may
not. We do not know, indeed, what further
suggestions the Committee may propose which
will modify and control this. But we presume
that the debate will have shown to the Com-
mittee the feeling of the House and of the coun-
try, and induce them to consider a very sim-
ple and obvious solution of the difficulty—an
amendment defining the qualifications of all
adult male citizens of the United States in na-
tional elections. Should some educational test
be required of future voters, it would still be
impossible to trust the education of their col-
ored population to the unorganized States.
They would keep them disfranchised by ignor-
ance. Now, ignorance is a very bad thing,
but loyal ignorance is better than disloyal, and
the Union would be much more secure if the one
kind were allowed to neutralize the other. Be-
sides, as Mr. Boutwell asked with emphasis,
if an educational test were imposed and the de-
cision of its adequate fulfillment were left to
white judges in the late Slave States, how many
colored men would they admit to have satisfied
the conditions?


The airy gentlemen who think that half a
nation can be alienated from the other half for
forty years, and after appealing to a tremendous
civil war, which rages for four years, tearing up
the industrial and political system of half a con-
tinent by its roots, and after one party is van-
quished in the field and still remains hostile at
heart, can conjure a settlement and reunion in
a few weeks or months by a free use of the word
“conciliation,” will have an opportunity of
learning wisdom from events. The duties of
no Congress could be graver then those of the
present, and it has thus far shown a sagacity
which we have no reason to fear will desert it.



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