An Act to Regulate the Elective Franchise in the District of Columbia – 39th Congress, 2nd Session, Chapter 6, Stat. 375, Enacted by a Veto Override on 01/08/1867
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S.1 – A Bill to Regulate the Elective Franchise in the District of Columbia – 12/04/1865
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A little over a year later President Andrew Johnson would veto the final version of this legislation. What I find most interesting about this legislation is that the Senate made this bill their first piece of legislation for the 39th Congress. I would like to see how many other Congresses placed District of Columbia-specific legislation before all other national matters.
December 4, 1865.
Mr. Wade asked, and by unanimous consent obtained, leave to bring in the following bill; which was read, passed to a second reading, and ordered to be printed.
To regulate the elective franchise in the District of Columbia.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the passage of this act, each and every male person, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who has not been convicted of any infamous crime or offense, and who is a citizen of the United States, and who shall have resided in the said District for the period of six months previous to any election therein, shall be entitled to the elective franchise and shall be deemed an elector and entitled to vote at any election in said District without any distinction or discrimination on account of color, race, or nationality.
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That if any person or persons shall wilfully interrupt or disturb any such elector in the exercise of such franchise, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined any sum not to exceed one thousand dollars, or be imprisoned in the cell or dungeon of the jail in said District, and fed on bread and water, only, for a period not to exceed thirty days, or both, at the discretion of the court.
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the several courts having criminal jurisdiction in said District to give this act in special charge to the grand jury at the commencement of each term of the court.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That all acts and parts of acts inconsistent with this act be, and the same are hereby, repealed.
A Reverse Chronological Listing of All DC History Entries
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One drawback of blogs is that they show entries in reverse chronological order, meaning the newest entries shows up first and the last entry shows up last. Yet this only deals with the exact time & date in which the blog entry was published on-line and not the time in which the content of the blog entry covers in history. As regular readers know, for the last two years the bulk of my blog entries have dealt with the history of the District of Columbia. I’ve literally spend hundreds of hours copying & transcribing history in order to share it here. The method in which I chose the articles was not scientific by any means, rather it was more of a scattered approach of looking throughout the internet for items that related to the topic. The result is a reverse chronological order of items that randomly bounce around dates over the last 200 years. In order to organize these entries into a more coherent historical listing, I decided to go through all related blog entries and put them all in chronological order based on the approximate date the content was originally published in history. Months ago, when I first conceived this listing, I realized that the hardest part of the listing was not putting it together, but, rather, keeping it updated in a timely fashion. By manually coding the listing, every time I publish a new entry, I’ll need to go back to the page and edit that as well in order to keep the listing accurate. Nonetheless, I am very proud of the work I completed over the last two years on this project and I hope others find these entries to be a valuable resource.
You can view the timelines here: https://www.nikolasschiller.com/blog/index.php/dc-history-timeline/
Scan & Text of the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution
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Scan of the 23rd Amendment from the National Archives
AT THE SECOND SESSION
Begun and held at the City of Washington, the sixth day of January, on thousand nine hundred and sixty
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States granting representation in the electoral college to the District of Columbia
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is hereby proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution only if ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission by the Congress:
“Section 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such a manner as the Congress may direct:
“A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.
“Sec. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Joseph Story was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts’s 2nd district (May 23, 1808 – March 3, 1809), Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (November 18, 1811 – September 10, 1845), and is the author of the first comprehensive treatise ever written on the U.S. Constitution. Below is the section of Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution that deals with the District of Columbia when it was still a diamond on the map.
Daguerreotype of Joseph Story from the Library of Congress
Originally published in three volumes by Hilliard, Gray & Company, and Brown, Shattuck, & Co in 1833
§ 1211. THE next power of congress is, "to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district, not exceeding ten miles square, as may, by cession of particular states and the acceptance of congress, become the SEAT OF THE GOVERNMENT of the United States; and
to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state, in which the same shall be, for the erection of FORTS, MAGAZINES, ARSENALS, and other needful BUILDINGS."
§ 1212. This clause was not in the original draft of the constitution; but was referred to a committee, who reported in its favour; and it was adopted into the constitution with a slight amendment without any apparent objection. 1
§ 1213. The indispensable necessity of complete and exclusive power, on the part of the congress, at the seat of government, carries its own evidence with it. It is a power exercised by every legislature of the Union, and one might say of the World, by virtue of its general supremacy. Without it not only the public authorities might be insulted, and their proceedings be interrupted with impunity; but the public archives might be in danger of violation, and destruction, and a dependence of the members of the national government on the state authorities for protection in the discharge of their functions be created, which would bring on the national councils the imputation of being subjected to undue awe and influence, and might, in times of high excitement, expose their lives to jeopardy. It never could be safe to leave in possession of any state the exclusive power to decide, whether the functionaries of the national government should have the moral or physical power to perform their duties. 2 It might subject the favoured state to the most unrelenting jealousy of the other states, and introduce earnest controversies from time to time respecting the removal of the seat of government.
§ 1214. Nor can the cession be justly an object of jealousy to any state; or in the slightest degree impair its sovereignty. The ceded district is of a very narrow extent; and it rests in the option of the state, whether it shall be made or not. There can be little doubt, that the inhabitants composing it would receive with thankfulness such a blessing, since their own importance would be thereby increased, their interests be subserved, and their rights be under the immediate protection of the
representatives of the whole Union. 3 It is not improbable, that an occurrence, at the very close of the revolutionary war, had a great effect in introducing this provision into the constitution. At the period alluded to, the congress, then sitting at Philadelphia, was surrounded and insulted by a small, but insolent body of mutineers of the continental army. Congress applied to the executive authority of Pennsylvania for defence; but, under the ill-conceived constitution of the state at that time, the executive power was vested in a council consisting of thirteen members; and they possessed, or exhibited so little energy, and such apparent intimidation, that congress indignantly removed to New-Jersey, whose inhabitants welcomed them with promises of defending them. Congress remained for some time at Princeton without being again insulted, till, for the sake of greater convenience, they adjourned to Annapolis. The general dissatisfaction with the proceedings of Pennsylvania, and the degrading spectacle of a fugitive congress, were sufficiently striking to produce this remedy. 4 Indeed, if such a lesson could have been lost upon the people, it would have been as humiliating to their intelligence, as it would have been offensive to their honour.
§ 1215. And yet this clause did not escape the common fate of most of the powers of the national government. It was represented, as peculiarly dangerous. It may, it was said, become a soft of public sanctuary, with exclusive privileges and immunities of every sort. It may be the very spot for the establishment of tyranny, and of refuge of the oppressors of the people. The inhabitants will be answerable to no laws, except those of congress. A powerful army may be here kept on foot; and the most oppressive and sanguinary laws may be passed to govern the district. 5 Nay, at the distance of fourteen years after the constitution had quietly gone into operation, and this power had been acted upon with a moderation, as commendable, as it ought to be satisfactory, a learned commentator expressed regret at the extent of the power, and intimated in no inexplicit terms his fears for the future. "A system of laws," says he, "incompatible with the nature and principles of a representative democracy, though not likely to be introduced at once, may be matured by degrees, and diffuse its influence through the states, and finally lay the foundation of the most important changes in the nature of the federal government. Let foreigners be enabled to hold lands, and transmit them by inheritance, or devise; let the preference to males, and the rights or primogeniture he revived with the doctrine of entails; and aristocracy will neither want a ladder to climb by, nor a base for its support.6"
§ 1216. What a superstructure to be erected on such a narrow foundation! Several of the states now permit foreigners to hold and transmit lands; and yet their liberties are not overwhelmed. The whole South, before the revolution, allowed and cherished the system of primogeniture; and yet they possessed, and transmitted to their children their colonial rights and privileges, and achieved under this very system the independence of the country. The system of entails is still the law of several of the states; and yet no danger has yet assailed them. They possess, and enjoy the fruits of republican industry and frugality, without any landed or other aristocracy. And yet the petty district of ten miles square is to overrule in its policy and legislation all, that is venerable and admirable in state legislation! The states, and the people of the states are represented in congress. The district has no representatives there; but is subjected to the exclusive legislation of the former. And yet congress, at home republican, will here nourish aristocracy. The states will here lay the foundation for the destruction of their own institutions, rights, and sovereignty. At home, they will follow the legislation of the district, instead of guiding it by their precept and example. They will choose to be the engines of tyranny and oppression in the district, that they may become enslaved within their own territorial sovereignty. What, but a disposition to indulge in all sorts of delusions and alarms, could create such extraordinary flights of imagination? Can such things be, and overcome us, like a summer’s cloud, without our special wonder? At this distance of time, it seems wholly unnecessary to refute the suggestions, which have been so ingeniously urged. If they prove any thing, they prove, that there ought to be no government, because no persons can be found worthy of the trust.
§ 1217. The seat of government has now, for more than thirty years, been permanently fixed on the river Potomac, on a tract of ten miles square, ceded by the states of Virginia and Maryland. It was selected by that great man, the boast of all America, the first in war, the first in peace, and the first in the hearts of his countrymen. It bears his name; it is the monument of his fame and wisdom. May it be for ever consecrated to its present noble purpose, capitoli immobile saxum!
§ 1218. The inhabitants enjoy all their civil, religious, and political rights. They live substantially under the same laws, as at the time of the cession; such changes only having been made, as have been devised, and sought by themselves. They are not indeed citizens of any state, entitled to the privileges of such; but they are citizens of the United States. They have no immediate representatives in congress. But they may justly boast, that they live under a paternal government, attentive to their wants, and zealous for their welfare. They, as yet, possess no local legislature; and have, as yet, not desired to possess one. A learned commentator has doubted, whether congress can create such a legislature, because it is the delegation of a delegated authority.7 A very different opinion was expressed by the Federalist; for it was said, that "a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them."8 In point of fact, the corporations of the three cities within its limits possess and exercise a delegated power of legislation under their charters, granted by congress, to the full extent of their municipal wants, without any constitutional scruple, or surmise of doubt.
§ 1219. The other part of the power, giving exclusive legislation over places ceded for the erection of forts, magazines, &c., seems still more necessary for the public convenience and safety. The public money expended on such places, and the public property deposited in them, and the nature of the military duties, which may be required there, all demand, that they should be exempted from state authority. In truth, it would be wholly improper, that places, on which the security of the entire Union may depend, should be subjected to the control of any member of it. The power, indeed, is wholly unexceptionable; since it can only be exercised at the will of the state; and therefore it is placed beyond all reasonable scruple.9 Yet, it did not escape without the scrutinizing jealousy of the opponents of the constitution, and was denounced, as dangerous to state sovereignty.10
§ 1220. A great variety of cessions have been made by the states under this power. And generally there has been a reservation of the right to serve all state process, civil and criminal, upon persons found therein. This reservation has not been thought at all inconsistent with the provision of the constitution; for the state process, quoad hoc, becomes the process of the United States, and the general power of exclusive legislation remains with congress. Thus, these places are not capable of being made a sanctuary for fugitives, to exempt them from acts done within, and cognizable by, the states, to which the territory belonged; and at the same time congress is enabled to accomplish the great objects of the power.11
§ 1221. The power of Congress to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over these ceded places is conferred on that body, as the legislature of the Union; and cannot be exercised in any other character. A law passed in pursuance of it is the supreme law of the land, and binding on all the states, and cannot be defeated by them. The power to pass such a law carries with it all the incidental powers to give it complete and effectual execution; and such a law may be extended in its operation incidentally throughout the United States, if congress think it necessary so to do. But if intended to have efficiency beyond the district, language must be used in the act expressive of such an intention; otherwise it will be deemed purely local. 12
§ 1222. It follows from this review of the clause, that the states cannot take cognizance of any acts done in the ceded places after the cession; and, on the other hand, the inhabitants of those places cease to be inhabitants of the state, and can no longer exercise any civil or political rights under the laws of the state.13 But if there has been no cession by the state of the place, although it has been constantly occupied and used, under purchase, or otherwise, by the United States for a fort, arsenal, or other constitutional purpose, the state jurisdiction still remains complete and perfect. 14
§ 1223. Upon a recent occasion, the nature and effect of the exclusive power of legislation, thus given by the constitution in these ceded places, came under the consideration of the Supreme Court, and was much discussed. It was argued, that all such legislation by congress was purely local, like that exercised by a territorial legislature; and was not to be deemed legislation by congress in the character of the legislature of the Union. The object of the argument was to establish, that a law, made in or for such ceded places, had no extra-territorial force or obligation, it not being a law of the United States. The reasoning of the court affirming, that such an act was a law of the United States, and that congress in passing it acted, as the legislature of the Union, can be best conveyed in their own language, and would be impaired by an abridgment.
§ 1224. "In the enumeration of the powers of congress, which is made in the eighth section of the first article, we find that of exercising exclusive legislation over such district, as shall become the seat of government. This power, like all others, which are specified, is conferred on congress, as the legislature of the Union; for, strip them of that character, and they would not possess it. In no other character can it be exercised. In legislating for the district, they necessarily preserve the character of the legislature of the Union; for it is in that character alone, that the constitution confers on them this power of exclusive legislation. This proposition need not be enforced. The second clause of the sixth article declares, that ‘this constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land.’ The clause, which gives exclusive jurisdiction, is unquestionably a part of the constitution, and, as such, binds all the United States. Those, who contend, that acts of congress, made in pursuance of this power, do not, like acts made in pursuance of other powers, bind the nation, ought to show some safe and clear rule, which shall support this construction, and prove, that an act of congress, clothed in all the forms, which attend other legislative acts, and passed in virtue of a power conferred on, and exercised by congress, as the legislature of the Union, is not a law of the United States, and does not bind them.
§ 1225. "One of the gentlemen sought to illustrate his proposition, that congress, when legislating for the district, assumed a distinct character, and was reduced to a mere local legislature, whose laws could possess no obligation out of the ten miles square, by a reference to the complex character of this court. It is, they say, a court of common law, and a court of equity. Its character, when sitting as a court of common law, is as distinct from its character, when sitting as a court of equity, as if the powers belonging to those departments were vested in different tribunals. Though united in the same tribunal, they are never confounded with each other. Without inquiring, how far the union of different characters in one court may be applicable, in principle, to the union in congress of the power of exclusive legislation in some places, and of limited legislation in others, it may be observed, that the forms of proceedings in a court of law are so totally unlike the forms of proceedings in a court of equity, that a mere inspection of the record gives decisive information of the character, in which the court sits, and consequently of the extent of its powers. But if the forms of proceeding were precisely the same, and the court the same, the distinction would disappear.
§ 1226. "Since congress legislates in the same forms, and in the same character, in virtue of powers of equal obligation conferred in the same instrument, when exercising its exclusive powers of legislation, as well as when exercising those, which are limited, we must inquire, whether there be any thing in the nature of this exclusive legislation, which necessarily confines the operation of the laws, made in virtue of this power, to the place, with a view to which they are made. Connected with the power to legislate within this district, is a similar power in forts, arsenals, dock-yards, &c. Congress has a right to punish murder in a fort, or other place within its exclusive jurisdiction; but no general right to punish murder committed within any of the states. In the act for the punishment of crimes against the United States, murder committed within a fort, or any other place or district of country, under the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, is punished with death. Thus congress legislates in the same act, under its exclusive and its limited powers.
§ 1227. "The act proceeds to direct, that the body of the criminal, after execution, may be delivered to a surgeon for dissection, and, punishes any person, who shall rescue such body during its conveyance from the place of execution to the surgeon, to whom it is to be delivered. Let these actual provisions of the law, or any other provisions, which can be made on the subject, be considered with a view to the character, in which congress acts, when exercising its powers of exclusive legislation. If congress is to be considered merely as a local legislature, invested, as to this object, with powers limited to the fort, or other place, in which the murder may be committed, if its general powers cannot come in aid of these local powers, how can the offence be tried in any other court, than that of the place, in which it has been committed? How can the offender be conveyed to, or tried in, any other place? How can he be executed elsewhere? How can his body be conveyed through a country under the jurisdiction of another sovereign, and the individual punished, who, within that jurisdiction, shall rescue the body? Were any one state of the Union to pass a law for trying a criminal in a court not created by itself, in a place not within its jurisdiction, and direct the sentence to be executed without its territory, we should all perceive, and acknowledge its incompetency to such a course of legislation. If congress be not equally incompetent, it is, because that body unites the powers of local legislation with those, which are to operate through the Union, and may use the last in aid of the first; or, because the power of exercising exclusive legislation draws after it, as an incident, the power of making that legislation effectual; and the incidental power may be exercised throughout the Union, because the principal power is given to that body, as the legislature of the Union.
§ 1228. "So, in the same act, a person, who, having knowledge of the commission of murder, or other felony, on the high seas, or within any fort, arsenal, dockyard, magazine, or other place, or district of country within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, shall conceal the same, &c. he shall be adjudged guilty of misprision of felony, and shall be adjudged to be imprisoned, &c. It is clear, that congress cannot punish felonies generally; and, of consequence, cannot punish misprision of felony. It is equally clear, that a state legislature, the state of Maryland for example, cannot punish those, who, in another state, conceal a felony committed in Maryland. How, then, is it, that congress, legislating exclusively for a fort, punishes those, who, out of that fort, conceal a felony committed within it?
§ 1229. "The solution, and the only solution of the difficulty, is, that the power vested in congress, as the legislature of the United States, to legislate exclusively within any place ceded by a state, carries with it, as an incident, the right to make that power effectual. If a felon escape out of the state, in which the act has been committed, the government cannot pursue him into another state, and apprehend him there; but must demand him from the executive power of that other state. If congress were to be considered merely, as the local legislature for the fort, or other place, in which the offence might be committed, then this principle would apply to them, as to other local legislatures; and the felon, who should escape out of the fort, or other place, in which the felony may have been committed, could not be apprehended by the marshal, but must be demanded from the executive of the state. But we know, that the principle does not apply; and the reason is, that congress is not a local legislature, but exercises this particular power, like all its other powers, in its high character, as the legislature of the Union. The American people thought it a necessary power, and they conferred it for their own benefit. Being so conferred, it carries with it all those incidental powers, which are necessary to its complete and effectual execution.
§ 1230. "Whether any particular law be designed to operate without the district or not, depends on the words of that law. If it be designed so to operate, then the question, whether the power, so exercised, be incidental to the power of exclusive legislation, and be warranted by the constitution, requires a consideration of that instrument. In such cases the constitution and the law must be compared and construed. This is the exercise of jurisdiction. It is the only exercise of it, which is allowed in such a case." 15
1. Journ. of Convent. 222, 260. 328, 329, 358.
2. The Federalist, No. 43; 2 Elliot’s Debates 92, 321,322, 326.
3. The Federalist, No. 43; 2 Elliot’s Debates 92, 321, 322, 326, 327.
4. Rawle on Const. ch. 9, p. 112, 113.
5. 2 Elliot’s Debates, 320, 321, 323, 324, 325, 326; Id. 115. Amendments limiting the power of congress to such regulations, as respect time police and good government of the district, were proposed by several or the states at the time of the adoption of the constitution. But they have been silently abandoned. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 276, 374.
6. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 277.
7. 1 Tucker’s Black. Comm. App. 278.
8. The Federalist. No. 43.
9. The Federalist, No. 43. See also United States v. Bevans, 3 Wheat. R. 336, 388.
10. 2 Elliot’s Debates, 145.
11. Commonwealth v. Clary, 8 Mass. R. 72; United States v. Cornell, 2 Mason R. 60; Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28, [ch. 30;] 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 402 to 404.
12. Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. R. 264, 424, 425, 426, 427, 428; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28, [ch. 30 ;] 1 Kent. Comm. Lect. 19, p. 402 to 404; Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238, 239; Loughborough v. Blake, 5 Wheat. R. 322, 324.
13. 8 Mass. R. 72; 1 Hall’s Journal of Jurisp. 53; 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 403, 404.
14. The People v. Godfrey, 17 Johns. R. 225; Commonwealth v. Young, 1 Hall’s Journal of Jurisp. 47; 1 Kent’s Comm. Lect. 19, p. 401, 404; Sergeant on Constitution, ch. 28. [ch. 30 ;] Rawle on Constitution, ch. 27, p. 238 to 240.
15. Cohens, v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. R. 424 to 429.
Map of the Ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution
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The 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution allows residents of the District of Columbia to vote for the President, but denies them any representation in Congress.
The Twenty-third Amendment was sent to the States on June 17, 1960 and was ratified by 3/4’s of the State Legislatures on March 29, 1961, which was faster than the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment.
The following states ratified the amendment:
1. Hawaii (June 23, 1960)
2. Massachusetts (August 22, 1960)
3. New Jersey (December 19, 1960)
4. New York (January 17, 1961)
5. California (January 19, 1961)
6. Oregon (January 27, 1961)
7. Maryland (January 30, 1961)
8. Idaho (January 31, 1961)
9. Maine (January 31, 1961)
10. Minnesota (January 31, 1961)
11. New Mexico (February 1, 1961)
12. Nevada (February 2, 1961)
13. Montana (February 6, 1961)
14. South Dakota (February 6, 1961)
15. Colorado (February 8, 1961)
16. Washington (February 9, 1961)
17. West Virginia (February 9, 1961)
18. Alaska (February 10, 1961)
19. Wyoming (February 13, 1961)
20. Delaware (February 20, 1961)
21. Utah (February 21, 1961)
22. Wisconsin (February 21, 1961)
23. Pennsylvania (February 28, 1961)
24. Indiana (March 3, 1961)
25. North Dakota (March 3, 1961)
26. Tennessee (March 6, 1961)
27. Michigan (March 8, 1961)
28. Connecticut (March 9, 1961)
29. Arizona (March 10, 1961)
30. Illinois (March 14, 1961)
31. Nebraska (March 15, 1961)
32. Vermont (March 15, 1961)
33. Iowa (March 16, 1961)
34. Missouri (March 20, 1961)
35. Oklahoma (March 21, 1961)
36. Rhode Island (March 22, 1961)
37. Kansas (March 29, 1961)
38. Ohio (March 29, 1961)
The amendment was subsequently ratified by the following states:
1. New Hampshire (March 30, 1961)
2. Alabama (April 16, 2002)
The New Hampshire ratification was somewhat irregular; a vote for ratification was taken on March 29, 1961 but was immediately rescinded. On that same day Kansas and Ohio ratified the amendment making New Hampshire’s second vote that was taken on the following day unnecessary for enactment.
The amendment was rejected by the following state:
1. Arkansas (January 24, 1961)
The following states have not ratified the amendment:
5. South Carolina
8. North Carolina
TO ASK FULL PRIVILEGES IN D.C. SUFFRAGE by Bill Price – The Washington Times, April 10, 1919
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TO ASK FULL PRIVILEGES IN D.C. SUFFRAGE – Pleas For Mouthful Portions of Justice Give Way to Demand For Full Meal. By Bill Price, The Washington Times, April 10, 1919
A number of leading officials of citizens’ associations who have been discussing this subject recently in the light of the strongly developing sentiment in Congress for suffrage here have about come to the conclusion that Congress should be asked grant full voting privileges except in such matters as the Constitution reserves to Congress, especially as to exclusive legislation over this slice of Federal Territory.
In halting, hesitating fashion many advocates of suffrage in the District have for a long time recommended asking for a mouthful of justice at a time instead of A WHOLE MEAL. In this manner there would come to Washington citizens in the course another fifteen or twenty years about half the suffrage rights now accorded to other Americans.
T. J. Donovan, the capable head of the Central Citizens’ Association, has recently been going into this subject in detail with other civic leaders, including Theodore Noyes, chairman of central suffrage committee, named by various civic organizations many months ago.
“A very large number of citizens who have expressed their ideas of local suffrage in my presence lately are very definite in their convictions,” said Mr. Donovan today, “that while they recognize it as axiomatic that for all time we must maintain a Federal status in the District, with exclusive right in Congress to legislate, they have no difficulty in harmonizing this with their right to choose the members of the Board of Commissioners of the District, the Board of Education, the Board of Children’s Guardians, the Public Utilities Commission and kindred other administrative officers. None of them can see good reasons why doing of this would conflict in the least with authority of Congress to retain legislative control over the District.
“The President of the United States is really too busy to be compelled to pass upon the qualifications of men for administrative officers, and it is reasonable to assume that all men chosen by the electorate would work in harmony with Congress.”
Mr. Donovan is convinced that the time has come to stop supplication for representation in the Senate and House and the Electoral College for the District. The question, as he sees it, should be submitted to Congress as a demand from American citizens who have done their share in every activity of peace and war, and whose records in money and men given to the Government for the war with Germany were better than those of a number of States of the Union.
“I am confident that when American citizens outside the District comprehend the status of the people here they will absolutely demand that their Senators and Congressmen correct the injustice so long done to the people of this city,” went on Mr. Donovan. “Therefore I say that the time for that justice is close at hand, and that we should ask for all that we are entitled to rather than humbly asking for a bit of legislation at a time.
“Our trouble in the past, and that is now being overcome through the co-operation of all citizens, is that the citizens of the States were not aware of the fact that to be a citizen of the Federal Capital carried with it the stigma of forfeiture of every right our forefathers fought and died for, and which our sons and brothers went overseas and laid down their lives for.
“When they ascertain that the principle of self-determination is to be made by the peace conference to apply to dozens of little nations in Europe and not to the enlightened citizens of the city of Washington, they will have something effective to say. All indications we now have are that they are already beginning to say it.
“Seventeen thousand District boys went into the army to fight for democracy; the more than 400,000 citizens who were left behind exceeded the same number of people in any other part of the United States in Liberty bond and war stamp subscriptions. Thus measuring up to the every demand of their Government, meeting every crisis like real men, is there any longer opposition to Washington people being given the same right of self-determination as the Turk, the Bulgarian, the Greek, Rumanian, Serb, and others?”
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SUFFRAGE BILL – Harper’s Magazine, Monthly Record of Current Events, February, 1867
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On the 7th the President returned, without his approval, the bill regulating Suffrage in the District. His objections to the bill were essentially these: Congress having the power of legislating for the District ought “to have a like respect for the will and interests of its inhabitants as is entertained by a State Legislature for the wishes and interests of the people for whom they legislate.”
The people of the District, at a special election held in December, 1865, by a vote almost unanimous (7369 to 35) voted against the extension to negroes of the right of Suffrage. In 1860 the population of the District was 60,000 whites and 14,000 people of color; now there are 100,000 whites and 30,000 colored; the augmentation of the colored population is owing mainly to the influx of escaped fugitives from Maryland and Virginia.
Having heretofore been held in slavery “and denied all opportunities for mental culture, we should inquire whether, after so brief a probation, they are, as a class, capable of an intelligent exercise of the right of Suffrage, and qualified to discharge the duties of official position.” The President is clearly of opinion that they are not.
And, moreover, “clothed with the right of Suffrage, their numbers largely in excess of the demand for labor, would soon be increased by an efflux from the surrounding States; and hardly yet capable of forming correct judgments upon the important questions that often make the issues of a political contest, they could readily be made subservient to the purposes of designing persons; and it would be within their power in one year to come into the District in such numbers as to have the supreme control of the white race, and to govern them by their own officers, and by the exercise of all the municipal authority—among the rest, of the right of taxation over property in which they have no interest.”
The President says that this law, “imposed upon an unwilling people, placed by the Constitution under the exclusive legislation of Congress, would be viewed as an arbitrary exercise of power, and as an indication by the country of the purpose of Congress to compel the acceptance of negro suffrage by the States. It would engender a feeling of opposition and hatred between the two races which would prevent them from living together in a state of mutual friendliness.”
He proceeds to argue that the extension to them of the power of suffrage is not necessary to enable persons of color to protect themselves in their rights and interests; and urges that there is great danger in the extension of this right to any new class of the population. He refers to the checks which are interposed in the way of the naturalization of emigrants, who are required, in addition to a residence of five years, to prove good moral character. It can not, he says, be supposed that the negroes, “from their previous condition of servitude are, as a class, as well informed as to the nature of our government as the intelligent foreigner who makes our land the home of his choice.”
The bill was passed notwithstanding the veto of the President (in the Senate, by 29 to 10 — 13 Senators not voting; and in the House by 113 to 38 — 41 members not voting). More than two-thirds of each House voting in its favor; the bill becomes a law.
District of Columbia Suffrage Bill – The President’s Veto — The New York Times, January 8, 1867
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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.
President Andrew Johnson’s Veto Message to Congress Concerning A Bill to Regulate the Elective Franchise in the District of Columbia – January 5, 1867
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Even five years after President Lincoln signed An Act for the Release of certain Persons held to Service or Labor in the District of Columbia aka the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, it was quite evident that emancipation did not mean electoral equality. Amendments to the Constitution were to be required, but before they were even ratified, Congress chose to extend suffrage to African Americans over a recent vote of the qualified, male Caucasian population in the District of Columbia.
Below is the veto message to Congress President Andrew Johnson wrote against a bill that would have extended universal suffrage to African Americans in the District of Columbia. In the message he assumes the role of a “check” against the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress over the District and explains that Congress should not experiment on the District residents, but rather let the Constitutional Amendment be ratified first.
I have chosen to highlight this text because while I disagree with Andrew Johnson’s conclusion, I believe his intention was correct. The 15th Amendment to the Constitutional was ratified three years later and Andrew Johnson was impeached. But the notion that the President should be the protector of the people of the District of Columbia against powers of Congress over the people of the District of Columbia is something to seriously consider when studying means to obtain full representation for residents today, especially since the President is the only federally elected official District residents can vote for, and that was only through a subsequent constitutional amendment.
To the Senate of the United States:
I have received and considered a bill entitled “An act to regulate the elective franchise in the District of Columbia,” passed by the Senate on the 13th of December and by the House of Representatives on the succeeding day. It was presented for my approval on the 26th ultimo–six days after the adjournment of Congress–and is now returned with my objections to the Senate, in which House it originated.
Measures having been introduced at the commencement of the first session of the present Congress for the extension of the elective franchise to persons of color in the District of Columbia, steps were taken by the corporate authorities of Washington and Georgetown to ascertain and make known the opinion of the people of the two cities upon a subject so immediately affecting their welfare as a community. The question was submitted to the people at special elections held in the month of December, 1865, when the qualified voters of Washington and Georgetown, with great unanimity of sentiment, expressed themselves opposed to the contemplated legislation. In Washington, in a vote of 6,556–the largest, with but two exceptions, ever polled in that city–only thirty-five ballots were cast for Negro suffrage, while in Georgetown, in an aggregate of 813 votes–a number considerably in excess of the average vote at the four preceding annual elections–but one was given in favor of the proposed extension of the elective franchise. As these elections seem to have been conducted with entire fairness, the result must be accepted as a truthful expression of the opinion of the people of the District upon the question which evoked it. Possessing, as an organized community, the same popular right as the inhabitants of a State or Territory to make known their will upon matters which affect their social and political condition, they could have selected no more appropriate mode of memorializing Congress upon the subject of this bill than through the suffrages of their qualified voters.
Entirely disregarding the wishes of the people of the District of Columbia, Congress has deemed it right and expedient to pass the measure now submitted for my signature. It therefore becomes the duty of the Executive, standing between the legislation of the one and the will of the other, fairly expressed, to determine whether he should approve the bill, and thus aid in placing upon the statute books of the nation a law against which the people to whom it is to apply have solemnly and with such unanimity protested, or whether he should return it with his objections in the hope that upon reconsideration Congress, acting as the representatives of the inhabitants of the seat of Government, will permit them to regulate a purely local question as to them may seem best suited to their interests and condition.
The District of Columbia was ceded to the United States by Maryland and Virginia in order that it might become the permanent seat of Government of the United States. Accepted by Congress, it at once became subject to the “exclusive legislation” for which provision is made in the Federal Constitution. It should be borne in mind, however, that in exercising its functions as the lawmaking power of the District of Columbia the authority of the National Legislature is not without limit, but that Congress is bound to observe the letter and spirit of the Constitution as well in the enactment of local laws for the seat of Government as in legislation common to the entire Union. Were it to be admitted that the right “to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” conferred upon Congress unlimited power within the District of Columbia, titles of nobility might be granted within its boundaries; laws might be made “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Despotism would thus reign at the seat of government of a free republic, and as a place of permanent residence it would be avoided by all who prefer the blessings of liberty to the mere emoluments of official position.
It should also be remembered that in legislating for the District of Columbia under the Federal Constitution the relation of Congress to its inhabitants is analogous to that of a legislature to the people of a State under their own local constitution. It does not, therefore, seem to be asking too much that in matters pertaining to the District Congress should have a like respect for the will and interest of its inhabitants as is entertained by a State legislature for the wishes and prosperity of those for whom they legislate. The spirit of our Constitution and the genius of our Government require that in regard to any law which is to affect and have a permanent bearing upon a people their will should exert at least a reasonable influence upon those who are acting in the capacity of their legislators. Would, for instance, the legislature of the State of New York, or of Pennsylvania, or of Indiana, or of any State in the Union, in opposition to the expressed will of a large majority of the people whom they were chosen to represent, arbitrarily force upon them as voters all persons of the African or Negro race and make them eligible for office without any other qualification than a certain term of residence within the State? In neither of the States named would the colored population, when acting together, be able to produce any great social or political result. Yet in New York, before he can vote, the man of color must fulfill conditions that are not required of the white citizen; in Pennsylvania the elective franchise is restricted to white freemen, while in Indiana Negroes and mulattoes are expressly excluded from the right of suffrage. It hardly seems consistent with the principles of right and justice that representatives of States where suffrage is either denied the colored man or granted to him on qualifications requiring intelligence or property should compel the people of the District of Columbia to try an experiment which their own constituents have thus far shown an unwillingness to test for themselves. Nor does it accord with our republican ideas that the principle of self-government should lose its force when applied to the residents of the District merely because their legislators are not, like those of the States, responsible through the ballot to the people for whom they are the lawmaking power.
The great object of placing the seat of Government under the exclusive legislation of Congress was to secure the entire independence of the General Government from undue State influence and to enable it to discharge without danger of interruption or infringement of its authority the high functions for which it was created by the people. For this important purpose it was ceded to the United States by Maryland and Virginia, and it certainly never could have been contemplated as one of the objects to be attained by placing it under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress that it would afford to propagandists or political parties a place for an experimental test of their principles and theories. While, indeed, the residents of the seat of Government are not citizens of any State and are not, therefore, allowed a voice in the electoral college or representation in the councils of the nation, they are, nevertheless, American citizens, entitled as such to every guaranty of the Constitution, to every benefit of the laws, and to every right which pertains to citizens of our common country. In all matters, then, affecting their domestic affairs, the spirit of our democratic form of government demands that their wishes should be consulted and respected and they taught to feel that although not permitted practically to participate in national concerns, they are, nevertheless, under a paternal government regardful of their rights, mindful of their wants, and solicitous for their prosperity. It was evidently contemplated that all local questions would be left to their decision, at least to an extent that would not be incompatible with the object for which Congress was granted exclusive legislation over the seat of Government. When the Constitution was yet under consideration, it was assumed by Mr. Madison that its inhabitants would be allowed “a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages.” When for the first time Congress, in the year 1800, assembled at Washington, President Adams, in his speech at its opening, reminded the two Houses that it was for them to consider whether the local powers over the District of Columbia, vested by the Constitution in the Congress of the United States, should be immediately exercised, and he asked them to “consider it as the capital of a great nation, advancing with unexampled rapidity in arts, in commerce, in wealth, and in population, and possessing within itself those resources which, if not thrown away or lamentably misdirected, would secure to it a long course of prosperity and self-government.” Three years had not elapsed when Congress was called upon to determine the propriety of retroceding to Maryland and Virginia the jurisdiction of the territory which they had respectively relinquished to the Government of the United States. It was urged on the one hand that exclusive jurisdiction was not necessary or useful to the Government; that it deprived the inhabitants of the District of their political rights; that much of the time of Congress was consumed in legislation pertaining to it; that its government was expensive; that Congress was not competent to legislate for the District, because the members were strangers to its local concerns; and that it was an example of a government without representation — an experiment dangerous to the liberties of the States. On the other hand it was held, among other reasons, and successfully, that the Constitution, the acts of cession of Virginia and Maryland, and the act of Congress accepting the grant all contemplated the exercise of exclusive legislation by Congress, and that its usefulness, if not its necessity, was inferred from the inconvenience which was felt for want of it by the Congress of the Confederation; that the people themselves, who, it was said, had been deprived of their political rights, had not complained and did not desire a retrocession; that the evil might be remedied by giving them a representation in Congress when the District should become sufficiently populous, and in the meantime a local legislature; that if the inhabitants had not political rights they had great political influence; that the trouble and expense of legislating for the District would not be great, but would diminish, and might in a great measure be avoided by a local legislature; and that Congress could not retrocede the inhabitants without their consent. Continuing to live substantially under the laws that existed at the time of the cession, and such changes only having been made as were suggested by themselves, the people of the District have not sought by a local legislature that which has generally been willingly conceded by the Congress of the nation.
As a general rule sound policy requires that the legislature should yield to the wishes of a people, when not inconsistent with the constitution and the laws. The measures suited to one community might not be well adapted to the condition of another; and the persons best qualified to determine such questions are those whose interests are to be directly affected by any proposed law. In Massachusetts, for instance, male persons are allowed to vote without regard to color, provided they possess a certain degree of intelligence. In a population in that State of 1,231,066 there were, by the census of 1860, only 9,602 persons of color, and of the males over 20 years of age there were 339,086 white to 2,602 colored. By the same official enumeration there were in the District of Columbia 60,764 whites to 14,316 persons of the colored race. Since then, however, the population of the District has largely increased, and it is estimated that at the present time there are nearly 100,000 whites to 30,000 Negroes. The cause of the augmented numbers of the latter class needs no explanation. Contiguous to Maryland and Virginia, the District during the war became a place of refuge for those who escaped from servitude, and it is yet the abiding place of a considerable proportion of those who sought within its limits a shelter from bondage. Until then held in slavery and denied all opportunities for mental culture, their first knowledge of the Government was acquired when, by conferring upon them freedom, it became the benefactor of their race. The test of their capability for improvement began when for the first time the career of free industry and the avenues to intelligence were opened to them. Possessing these advantages but a limited time–the greater number perhaps having entered the District of Columbia during the later years of the war, or since its termination–we may well pause to inquire whether, after so brief a probation, they are as a class capable of an intelligent exercise of the right of suffrage and qualified to discharge the duties of official position. The people who are daily witnesses of their mode of living, and who have become familiar with their habits of thought, have expressed the conviction that they are not yet competent to serve as electors, and thus become eligible for office in the local governments under which they live. Clothed with the elective franchise, their numbers, already largely in excess of the demand for labor, would be soon increased by an influx from the adjoining States. Drawn from fields where employment is abundant, they would in vain seek it here, and so add to the embarrassments already experienced from the large class of idle persons congregated in the District. Hardly yet capable of forming correct judgments upon the important questions that often make the issues of a political contest, they could readily be made subservient to the purposes of designing persons. While in Massachusetts, under the census of 1860, the proportion of white to colored males over 20 years of age was 130 to 1, here the black race constitutes nearly one-third of the entire population, whilst the same class surrounds the District on all sides, ready to change their residence at a moment’s notice, and with all the facility of a nomadic people, in order to enjoy here, after a short residence, a privilege they find nowhere else. It is within their power in one year to come into the District in such numbers as to have the supreme control of the white race, and to govern them by their own officers and by the exercise of all the municipal authority–among the rest, of the power of taxation over property in which they have no interest. In Massachusetts, where they have enjoyed the benefits of a thorough educational system. a qualification of intelligence is required, while here suffrage is extended to all without discrimination as well to the most incapable who can prove a residence in the District of one year as to those persons of color who, comparatively few in number, are permanent inhabitants, and, having given evidence of merit and qualification, are recognized as useful and responsible members of the community. Imposed upon an unwilling people placed by the Constitution under the exclusive legislation of Congress, it would be viewed as an arbitrary exercise of power and as an indication by the country of the purpose of Congress to compel the acceptance of Negro suffrage by the States. It would engender a feeling of opposition and hatred between the two races, which, becoming deep rooted and ineradicable, would prevent them from living together in a state of mutual friendliness. Carefully avoiding every measure that might tend to produce such a result. and following the clear and well-ascertained popular will, we should assiduously endeavor to promote kindly relations between them, and thus, when that popular will leads the way, prepare for the gradual and harmonious introduction of this new element into the political power of the country.
It can not be urged that the proposed extension of suffrage in the District of Columbia is necessary to enable persons of color to protect either their interests or their rights. They stand here precisely as they stand in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Here as elsewhere, in all that pertains to civil rights, there is nothing to distinguish this class of persons from citizens of the United States, for they possess the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens,” and are made “subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.” Nor, as has been assumed, are their suffrages necessary to aid a loyal sentiment here, for local governments already exist of undoubted fealty to the Government, and are sustained by communities which were among the first to testify their devotion to the Union, and which during the struggle furnished their full quotas of men to the military service of the country.
The exercise of the elective franchise is the highest attribute of an American citizen, and when guided by virtue, intelligence, patriotism, and a proper appreciation of our institutions constitutes the true basis of a democratic form of government, in which the sovereign power is lodged in the body of the people. Its influence for good necessarily depends upon the elevated character and patriotism of the elector, for if exercised by persons who do not justly estimate its value and who are indifferent as to its results it will only serve as a means of placing power in the hands of the unprincipled and ambitious, and must eventuate in the complete destruction of that liberty of which it should be the most powerful conservator. Great danger is therefore to be apprehended from an untimely extension of the elective franchise to any new class in our country, especially when the large majority of that class, in wielding the power thus placed in their hands, can not be expected correctly to comprehend the duties and responsibilities which pertain to suffrage. Yesterday, as it were, 4,000,000 persons were held in a condition of slavery that had existed for generations; to-day they are freemen and are assumed by law to be citizens. It can not be presumed, from their previous condition of servitude, that as a class they are as well informed as to the nature of our Government as the intelligent foreigner who makes our land the home of his choice. In the case of the latter neither a residence of five years and the knowledge of our institutions which it gives nor attachment to the principles of the Constitution are the only conditions upon which he can be admitted to citizenship; he must prove in addition a good moral character, and thus give reasonable ground for the belief that he will be faithful to the obligations which he assumes as a citizen of the Republic. Where a people–the source of all political power–speak by their suffrages through the instrumentality of the ballot box, it must be carefully guarded against the control of those who are corrupt in principle and enemies of free institutions, for it can only become to our political and social system a safe conductor of healthy popular sentiment when kept free from demoralizing influences. Controlled through fraud and usurpation by the designing, anarchy and despotism must inevitably follow. In the hands of the patriotic and worthy our Government will be preserved upon the principles of the Constitution inherited from our fathers. It follows, therefore, that in admitting to the ballot box a new class of voters not qualified for the exercise of the elective franchise we weaken our system of government instead of adding to its strength and durability.
In returning this bill to the Senate I deeply regret that there should be any conflict of opinion between the legislative and executive departments of the Government in regard to measures that vitally affect the prosperity and peace of the country. Sincerely desiring to reconcile the States with one another and the whole people to the Government of the United States, it has been my earnest wish to cooperate with Congress in all measures having for their object a proper and complete adjustment of the questions resulting from our late civil war. Harmony between the coordinate branches of the Government, always necessary for the public welfare, was never more demanded than at the present time, and it will therefore be my constant aim to promote as far as possible concert of action between them. The differences of opinion that have already occurred have rendered me only the more cautious, lest the Executive should encroach upon any of the prerogatives of Congress or by exceeding in any manner the constitutional limit of his duties destroy the equilibrium which should exist between the several coordinate departments, and which is so essential to the harmonious working of the Government. I know it has been urged that the executive department is more likely to enlarge the sphere of its action than either of the other two branches of the Government, and especially in the exercise of the veto power conferred upon it by the Constitution. It should be remembered, however, that this power is wholly negative and conservative in its character, and was intended to operate as a check upon unconstitutional, hasty, and improvident legislation and as a means of protection against invasions of the just powers of the executive and judicial departments. It is remarked by Chancellor Kent that–
To enact laws is a transcendent power, and if the body that possesses it be a full and equal representation of the people there is danger of its pressing with destructive weight upon all the other parts of the machinery of Government. It has therefore been thought necessary by the most skillful and most experienced artists in the science of civil polity that strong barriers should be erected for the protection and security of the other necessary powers of the Government. Nothing has been deemed more fit and expedient for the purpose than the provision that the head of the executive department should be so constituted as to secure a requisite share of independence and that he should have a negative upon the passing of laws; and that the judiciary power, resting on a still more permanent basis, should have the right of determining upon the validity of laws by the standard of the Constitution.
The necessity of some such check in the hands of the Executive is shown by reference to the most eminent writers upon our system of government, who seem to concur in the opinion that encroachments are most to be apprehended from the department in which all legislative powers are vested by the Constitution. Mr. Madison, in referring to the difficulty of providing some practical security for each against the invasion of the others, remarks that “the legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex.” “The founders of our Republic * * * seem never to have recollected the danger from legislative usurpations, which by assembling all power in the same hands must lead to the same tyranny as is threatened by Executive usurpations.” “In a representative republic, where the executive magistracy is carefully limited both in the extent and the duration of its power, and where the legislative power is exercised by an assembly which is inspired, by a supposed influence over the people, with an intrepid confidence in its own strength, which is sufficiently numerous to feel all the passions which actuate a multitude, yet not so numerous as to be incapable of pursuing the objects of its passions by means which reason prescribes, it is against the enterprising ambition of this department that the people ought to indulge all their jealousy and exhaust all their precautions.” “The legislative department derives a superiority in our governments from other circumstances. Its constitutional powers being at once more extensive and less susceptible of precise limits, it can with the greater facility mask, under complicated and indirect measures, the encroachments which it makes on the coordinate departments.” “On the other side, the Executive power being restrained within a narrower compass and being more simple in its nature, and the judiciary being described by landmarks still less uncertain, projects of usurpation by either of these departments would immediately betray and defeat themselves. Nor is this all. As the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people and has in some constitutions full discretion and in all a prevailing influence over the pecuniary rewards of those who fill the other departments, a dependence is thus created in the latter which gives still greater facility to encroachments of the former.”
“We have seen that the tendency of republican governments is to an aggrandizement of the legislative at the expense of the other departments.”
Mr. Jefferson, in referring to the early constitution of Virginia, objected that by its provisions all the powers of government–legislative, executive, and judicial–resulted to the legislative body, holding that “the concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one.” “As little will it avail us that they are chosen by ourselves. An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be rounded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others. For this reason that convention which passed the ordinance of government laid its foundation on this basis, that the legislative, executive, and judicial departments should be separate and distinct, so that no person should exercise the powers of more than one of them at the same time. But no barrier was provided between these several powers. The judiciary and executive members were left dependent on the legislative for their subsistence in office, and some of them for their continuance in it. If, therefore, the legislature assumes executive and judiciary powers, no opposition is likely to be made, nor, if made, can be effectual, because in that case they may put their proceedings into the form of an act of assembly, which will render them obligatory on the other branches. They have accordingly in many instances decided rights which should have been left to judiciary controversy; and the direction of the executive, during the whole time of their session, is becoming habitual and familiar.”
Mr. Justice Story, in his Commentaries on the Constitution, reviews the same subject, and says:
The truth is that the legislative power is the great and overruling power in every free government. * * * The representatives of the people will watch with jealousy every encroachment of the executive magistrate, for it trenches upon their own authority. But who shall watch the encroachment of these representatives themselves? Will they be as jealous of the exercise of power by themselves as by others? * * *
There are many reasons which may be assigned for the engrossing influence of the legislative department. In the first place, its constitutional powers are more extensive, and less capable of being brought within precise limits than those of either the other departments. The bounds of the executive authority are easily marked out and defined. It reaches few objects, and those are known. It can not transcend them without being brought in contact with the other departments. Laws may check and restrain and bound its exercise. The same remarks apply with still greater force to the judiciary. The jurisdiction is, or may be, bounded to a few objects or persons; or, however general and unlimited, its operations are necessarily confined to the mere administration of private and public justice. It can not punish without law. It can not create controversies to act upon. It can decide only upon rights and cases as they are brought by others before it. It can do nothing for itself. It must do everything for others. It must obey the laws, and if it corruptly administers them it is subjected to the power of impeachment. On the other hand, the legislative power except in the few cases of constitutional prohibition, is unlimited. It is forever varying its means and its ends. It governs the institutions and laws and public policy of the country. It regulates all its vast interests. It disposes of all its property. Look but at the exercise of two or three branches of its ordinary powers. It levies all taxes; it directs and appropriates all supplies; it gives the rules for the descent, distribution, and devises of all property held by individuals; it controls the sources and the resources of wealth; it changes at its will the whole fabric of the laws; it molds at its pleasure almost all the institutions which give strength and comfort and dignity to society.
In the next place, it is the direct visible representative of the will of the people in all the changes of times and circumstances. It has the pride as well as the power of numbers. It is easily moved and steadily moved by the strong impulses of popular feeling and popular odium. It obeys without reluctance the wishes and the will of the majority for the time being. The path to public favor lies open by such obedience, and it finds not only support but impunity in whatever measures the majority advises, even though they transcend the constitutional limits. It has no motive, therefore, to be jealous or scrupulous in its own use of power; and it finds its ambition stimulated and its arm strengthened by the countenance and the courage of numbers. These views are not alone those of men who look with apprehension upon the fate of republics, but they are also freely admitted by some of the strongest advocates for popular rights and the permanency of republican institutions. * * *
* * * Each department should have a will of its own. * * * Each should have its own independence secured beyond the power of being taken away by either or both of the others. But at the same time the relations of each to the other should be so strong that there should be a mutual interest to sustain and protect each other. There should not only be constitutional means, but personal motives to resist encroachments of one or either of the others. Thus ambition would be made to counteract ambition, the desire of power to check power, and the pressure of interest to balance an opposing interest.
* * * The judiciary is naturally and almost necessarily, as has been already said, the weakest department. It can have no means of influence by patronage. Its powers can never be wielded for itself. It has no command over the purse or the sword of the nation. It can neither lay taxes, nor appropriate money, nor command armies, nor appoint to office. It is never brought into contact with the people by constant appeals and solicitations and private intercourse, which belong to all the other departments of Government. It is seen only in controversies or in trials and punishments. Its rigid justice and impartiality give it no claims to favor, however they may to respect. It stands solitary and unsupported, except by that portion of public opinion which is interested only in the strict administration of justice. It can rarely secure the sympathy or zealous support either of the Executive or the Legislature. If they are not, as is not unfrequently the case, jealous of its prerogatives, the constant necessity of scrutinizing the acts of each, upon the application of any private person, and the painful duty of pronouncing judgment that these acts are a departure from the law or Constitution can have no tendency to conciliate kindness or nourish influence. It would seem, therefore, that some additional guards would, under the circumstances, be necessary to protect this department from the absolute dominion of the others. Yet rarely have any such guards been applied, and every attempt to introduce them has been resisted with a pertinacity which demonstrates how slow popular leaders are to introduce checks upon their own power and how slow the people are to believe that the judiciary is the real bulwark of their liberties. * * *
* * * If any department of the Government has undue influence or absorbing power, it certainly has not been the executive or judiciary.
In addition to what has been said by these distinguished writers, it may also be urged that the dominant party in each House may, by the expulsion of a sufficient number of members or by the exclusion from representation of a requisite number of States, reduce the minority to less than one-third. Congress by these means might be enabled to pass a law, the objections of the President to the contrary notwithstanding, which would render impotent the other two departments of the Government and make inoperative the wholesome and restraining power which it was intended by the framers of the Constitution should be exerted by them. This would be a practical concentration of all power in the Congress of the United States; this, in the language of the author of the Declaration of Independence, would be “precisely the definition of despotic government.”
I have preferred to reproduce these teachings of the great statesmen and constitutional lawyers of the early and later days of the Republic rather than to rely simply upon an expression of my own opinions. We can not too often recur to them, especially at a conjuncture like the present. Their application to our actual condition is so apparent that they now come to us a living voice, to be listened to with more attention than at any previous period of our history. We have been and are yet in the midst of popular commotion. The passions aroused by a great civil war are still dominant. It is not a time favorable to that calm and deliberate judgment which is the only safe guide when radical changes in our institutions are to be made. The measure now before me is one of those changes. It initiates an untried experiment for a people who have said, with one voice, that it is not for their good. This alone should make us pause, but it is not all. The experiment has not been tried, or so much as demanded, by the people of the several States for themselves. In but few of the States has such an innovation been allowed as giving the ballot to the colored population without any other qualification than a residence of one year, and in most of them the denial of the ballot to this race is absolute and by fundamental law placed beyond the domain of ordinary legislation. In most of those States the evil of such suffrage would be partial, but, small as it would be, it is guarded by constitutional barriers. Here the innovation assumes formidable proportions, which may easily grow to such an extent as to make the white population a subordinate element in the body politic.
After full deliberation upon this measure, I can not bring myself to approve it, even upon local considerations, nor yet as the beginning of an experiment on a larger scale. I yield to no one in attachment to that rule of general suffrage which distinguishes our policy as a nation. But there is a limit, wisely observed hitherto, which makes the ballot a privilege and a trust, and which requires of some classes a time suitable for probation and preparation. To give it indiscriminately to a new class, wholly unprepared by previous habits and opportunities to perform the trust which it demands, is to degrade it, and finally to destroy its power, for it may be safely assumed that no political truth is better established than that such indiscriminate and all-embracing extension of popular suffrage must end at last in its destruction.
January 5, 1867