The argument with which President Johnson supports his veto of the District of Columbia Suffrage Bill will not convert Congress or the country to his views. His denial of the right of Congress to legislate for the District is so flatly opposed to the terms of the Constitution, and the ground upon which aid for District projects has always been invoked, that it amounts to little. The provision of the Constitution empowering Congress to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District, and the fact that its citizens have never claimed the rights which the President now asserts in their behalf, are conclusive against him. The plea that the citizens of the District possess, “as an organized community, the same popular rights as the inhabitants of a State or Territory,” is sustained neither by theory nor usage. Congress has, indeed, conceded certain municipal privileges; but its power to legislate in all matters pertaining to the District has not been disputed by people or President until now.
Certain it is that this message will not induce the surrender by Congress of the authority under which it regulates the suffrage in the Federal District. The right by which it legislates for the District on the other questions embraces the right to legislate on this question, with exclusive reference to the wishes and requirements of the States represented in the Capitol. And nothing is more clear than the fact that the States whose verdict has recently been pronounced are in favor of solving in the District, experimentally, one of the many problems which grow out of the altered relations of the colored people. The pending Constitutional Amendment indirectly encourages the enfranchisement of the freedmen in every State, North and South. It diminishes everywhere the basis of representation to the extent of the number of those who are excluded from the franchise because of race or color; so affirming, indirectly, the principle of impartial suffrage, while recognizing the absolute right of each State to determine the standard of suffrage for itself. What more proper than that the application of the principle should begin in the District whose public concerns are specially subject to the control of Congress?
The president dwells upon the opposition of the majority of the white residents in the District to any scheme of negro enfranchisement. This opposition, however, has never assumed the form of a denial of the Congressional right to legislate in the premises. They are too conscious of the substantial benefits accrue continually from the guardianship of Congress, to impugn its authority in the matter of the franchise. As for the rest, Congress is the judge of what is proper and expedient. And nothing could be more obviously proper than that the Congress which has decreed the civil status of the negro should also affirm his political equality as a citizen, so far as it is subject to the national legislation. In affirming this, Congress simply obeys the will of the majority of the American people, whose utterances the President continues to disregard.
There may be room for doubt as to the expediency of acting on the principle of universal enfranchisement. We should have preferred the application of some test of fitness, whether intelligence or property or taxation, to be enforced alike against black and white. So that the right to vote be shared impartially, irrespective of color, the great point would seem to be gained. Congress has thought differently, however; and as between universal suffrage and the entire exclusion of the freedmen because of color, the Republican Party cannot hesitate in its choice.
The President quotes from MADISON, JEFFERSON, STORY AND KENT in support of his course. But the citations from the writings of these eminent men really have no direct bearing upon the point at issue. They vindicate the value of the veto power and the right of the Executive to exert it; but as neither is disputed the appositeness of the passages reproduced is not very apparent.
The right to veto is as valid as the right of Congress to pass the bill over the veto, and no more so. The debatable part of the question relates to the arguments by which the position of each is upheld. And we apprehend that in this case the popular judgment will be on the side of Congress, and against the President.
This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article from the New York Times. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.