Harper's Weekly 02/24/1866


CONGRESS.

February 6:

In the Senate, Mr. Sumner continued his speech on the
Constitutional Amendment.


In the House, the substitute for the Freedmen's Bu-
reau bill offered by the Committee on Freedmen's Affairs
was passed, 136 to 33. The substitute differs from the Sen-
ate bill only in minor details, such as the salary of officers,
etc.—The bill giving the assent of Congress to the transfer
of Berkeley and Jefferson Counties from Virginia to West
Virginia was passed.


February 7:

In the Senate, the House bill to prevent the reissue of
registers to American vessels whose registers were changed
during the war was called up. Mr. Sherman opposed the
bill as too severe. It would only injure the American
Marine. The bill was passed, 31 to 12.—Mr. Wilson's joint
resolution to Amend the Constitution so as to provide that
slaveholders shall never receive compensation for emanci-
pated slaves was referred to the Committee of Fifteen.
Mr. Wilson made a lengthy argument in favor of the res-
olution.—The Constitutional Amendment being in order,
Mr. Fessenden replied to some objections which had been
urged against it in the Senate and the House. He did not
think the amendment subversive of republican principles
as Mr. Sumner had argued. He did not think either that
the Committee of Fifteen had transcended their proper
functions, as had been urged in the House, in reporting the
Amendment. The subject had been referred to them, and
they could not evade it. He had as much reverence for
the Constitution as other men, but he did not deem it more
perfect than those deemed it who had made it. Why did
they make provision for its amendment? If there ever
could arise an occasion for revising the provisions of that
instrument, it was now. We had had a great war which
had resulted in the emancipation of slaves. The Consti-
tution had been formed at a time when it had to be adapted
to the existence of slavery. This was the case in regard
to representation. It might be objected that the Consti-
tution in this instance regulated itself, and that the negroes
now made free came to be of the whole number of popula-
tion to be counted as a basis of representation. But Slav-
ery had existed, the slaves had been freed contrary to the
inclination of those among whom they must live, and the
prejudice against the negroes as a class would excluded them
from all political rights. Leaving the Constitution as it is
there would be representation for all, but there would be
an entire class excluded from any voice in the government,
and therefore from any real representation. The result
would be that the powers of the oligarchical interest would
be increased by just that amount of representation which
was denied to the blacks. Why not propose a simple
amendment in the terms proposed by the Senator from
Missouri, to do away with all distinction on account of
color or race in all the States of the Union, so far as re-
gards civil and political rights and immunities? He would
prefer something of that kind at once. There were not
many Senators within the sound of his voice who would
not prefer it; yet the Committee had not recommended
such a provision, and he stood there to approve what the
Committee had recommended. The position of the Mis-
souri Senator would compel the Southern States either to
limit their suffrage or extend it too far for their own safe-
ty. The Senator from Massachusetts would hardly con-
tend that at this time the mass of the population of the
Slave States were fit to exercise the right of suffrage. No
man looking at the question dispassionately would contend
that those so recently slaves were fit to vote. The conse-
quence would be, that the Slave States must admit all or
make an exclusion that would cut off not only the negro
population but a large proportion of the whites. This
would place the power in the hands of a few. This might
not prevent him from putting such a provision in the
Constitution, if he could, for he should trust to time to do
away with the immediate consequences for evil. However
this might be, he was not convinced that suffrage was such
a natural right that it must be conferred upon any free-
man. The argument of Mr. Sumner would apply to wo-
men as well as to freedmen. Mr. Fessenden then explained
that the Committee had not reported an amendment abol-
ishing distinction of color instead of the pending measure,
because it was believed that it could not get the requisite
number of States, and there would be no hope of its adop-
tion. Connecticut and Wisconsin had refused to adopt a
similar measure in their own territory. All the Western
States seemed to be opposed to it. New York would not
consent to it. The pending measure was the best that was
practicable. “It gives to any State a right to be repre-
sented according to population, with this distinction: that
if a State says that it has a class of people not fit to be
represented that class shall not be represented.”


In the House, the Senate resolution to appropriate
$10,000 to pay the expenses of the Reconstruction Com-
mittee was passed.


February 8:

In the Senate, Mr. Lane made a speech on the Amend-
ment. He thought the rebel States not yet fit to enter the
Union. The representatives from Tennessee he would ad-
mit now. In Arkansas he believed men had been elected
who might be admitted.—The Freedmen's Bureau bill, as
amended by the House, was passed.


In the House, the bill for the disposal of public lands for
homesteads in the Southern States was passed, 112 to 29.


February 9:

In the Senate, Mr. Johnson made a speech on the Amend-
ment. He claimed that the limitation of the representa-
tion to three-fifths of the slaves instead of allowing repre-
sentation for the whole number, in the original Constitu-
tion, was on account of the fact that they were slaves.
Now that they were free the spirit of the Constitution de-
manded that all should be reckoned. He said that only
six States allowed suffrage to negroes, while thirty refused
it. Exclusive of the rebel States there was a majority of
those opposing negro suffrage.


In the House there were three military visitations,
which appeared to very much excite the members. No
important business was transacted.


February 10:

The Senate was not in session.

In the House, the session was taken up in speeches by
Messrs. Ward, Delano, and Williams.



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