Harper's Weekly 12/01/1866


THE AMENDMENT AT THE SOUTH.

THE people have laid down a principle of
restoration by which, of course, they are
willing to stand. They have plainly declared
that when States formally secede form the Un-
ion, and attempting to maintain the secession by
force of arms are subdued, they may resume
their relations in the Union only upon such
conditions, not inconsistent with the funda-
mental principles of the Government, as may
be determined by the loyal sentiment of the
country. This is the principle affirmed by the
autumn elections. And as the conditions were
at the same time announced, it becomes an in-
teresting question what the States which at-
tempted secession are likely to do.


Several of them have already acted. The
Legislatures of Texas and Georgia have re-
jected the proposed Amendment. The Gov-
ernors of Mississippi, South Carolina, and Ala-
bama have recommended the rejection. The
old political leaders who dragged their section
into the war advise repudiation of the condi-
tions. And the newspapers, the tone and man-
ner of which are simply inconceivable to one
who does not see them, disdain the Amend-
ment with passionate contempt. That there
are persons in the unrepresented States who
deprecate this folly of Governors, Legislatures,
leaders, and editors is very possible; but the
practical drift of public opinion can be ascer-
tained only through such channels. So long as
those who, for whatever reason, approve the
Amendment can not elect the Governors or a
majority of the Legislatures, nor even organize
to do so, we must regard what we see as the
indication of the real state of feeling.


The objections to the Amendment are, that
it was suggested by a Congress in which all the
States were not represented; that it is destruc-
tive of State rights; and that it is humiliating to
the people of the unrepresented States.


Now, to the first of these objections it should
be enough to say that it begs the question. By
the necessity of the case the States that re-
mained loyal constituted Congress by their rep-
resentatives. By an equal necessity they are
bound to guard the country against any danger
that may arise from the unrestricted return of
the rebel States, just as they were bound to de-
fend it from the consequences of the attempted
secession. The authority to do this is found
in the nature of government itself and in com-
mon sense. It is found exactly where the au-
thority to emancipate the slaves was found.
Since Congress is, and has been, the lawful Con-
gress of the United States ever since certain
States seceded, it has the same authority to pro-
pose amendments to the Constitution that any
Congress ever had or ever can have. If it be not
competent to propose a Constitutional Amend-
ment, it is not competent to legislate; and if it
be not competent to legislate because certain
States are unrepresented, the entire legislation
of the country for the last five years is invalid.
If it be not a lawful Congress, the President is
not a lawful President, and the Chief Justice
confirmed by it is not a lawful Chief Justice.
That is to say, if Congress be not lawful, we have
no government in either of the three branches,
legislative, judicial, and executive. But if it
be a lawful Congress it may propose amend-
ments.


To say that the amendment destroys State
rights, is to deny to the Government of the
United States the first power of a Government;
namely, to declare who are its citizens, and to de-
fine and defend their civil rights. The Amend-
ment, in the first clause, simply says that as the
Government of the United States is a supreme
authority in its sphere, no other power what-
ever shall presume to deprive its citizens of
civil rights. When the Governors of the un-
represented States say that this is a blow at
State rights, they forget that they are speaking
from the old and now obsolete Southern theory
that the Constitution is a mere treaty between
sovereign States and the Union a common serv-
ant of many masters. They must now under-
stand that the people of the Union have decided
by the last appeal that it is a national power,
and no sensible, practical statesman will under-
take to quarrel with that decision. Why should
an English politician attempt to prove that
William III. had no right to the British throne,
and that some remote Stuart boy is now the
real King of England? He might as well try
to prove that it was very foolish for people to
be drowned in the deluge. Certain questions
are settled. They have been debated long and
fiercely. The differences could not be reconciled.
Arms were invoked, and the event of the strug-
gle was the final reply. The Southern theory
of the Constitution and Union is one of those
questions. Those who continue to vex it will
be the only sufferers.


But the loudest objection to the Amendment
is, that it humiliates the States lately in rebell-
ion. How? Were they humiliated by accept-
ing the Emancipation Amendment, also pro-
posed by a Congress in which they were not
represented? If they were not, how can they
be humiliated by accepting the legitimate re-
sults of that Amendment, namely, an equaliza-
tion of political power? After a tremendous
struggle to overthrow a Government in which
you fail, how can you be humiliated by accept-
ing, as the condition of resuming a share in that
Government, that it shall be upon equal terms
with all others? Do the Southern Governors
mean us to understand—not to put too fine a
point upon it—that rebels are humiliated if by
their causeless and defeated rebellion they have
not gained increased political power? They
insist that the ineligibility to office of those who
have broken their oath to the Government dis-
ables the chief men of the section, and repre-
sentatively disgraces all who honestly support-
ed the rebellion. This is not a valid argument.
The sincerity of the rebellion is not a pertinent
plea. The question for the United States is,
how it can most effectively secure the future.
And a very obvious and practical method is by
making treason odious—not by hangings and
confiscation, but by making the whole tribe of
trading and forsworn politicians ineligible to of-
fice, not forever, but at the pleasure of Congress.
Certainly a South Carolinian of this class, for
instance, who prides himself upon having been a
rebel, and upon being one still, does not suppose
that the whole duty of a Government recover-
ing from so severe a strain is to forget and for-
give. It is not vindictiveness toward rebels, it
is merely justice to loyal men which prescribes
this and all other parts of the Amendment.


There is no chance whatever, and we hope
the wiser men at the South will see it and say
it as often and strongly as they can—there is no
chance whatever that the persistence of the late
rebel States will wear out the tenacity of the
loyal country. It is not party heat, but the cen-
tral warmth of intelligent conviction, which has
moulded the conditions offered for restoration.
Does the experience of the last five years lead
the people of the unrepresented States to sup-
pose that the loyal people will be turned from
their purpose?



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