Harper's Weekly 08/25/1866


THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.

The election for delegates to the Constitutional
Convention was held March 28, 1864. There were
95 delegates, of whom 63 were from Orleans Parish.
The Convention assembled on April 6, and was or-
ganized by the election of E. H. Durell, Presi-
dent, he having 43 votes and R. K. Howell 42.
After a session of 78 days the Convention adjourned
July 25. A proclamation was immediately issued
by the Governor, appointing September 5 as the
day upon which a vote should be taken upon the
Constitution. The vote stood: for adoption, 6836
—for rejection, 1566. The vote of New Orleans
was: 4634 for, and 789 against.


This Constitution, thus ratified, abolished slavery
unconditionally, decreed the education of all the
children without distinction of color, and directed
that all men, white or black, should be enrolled for
the public defense. At the same election by which
the Constitution was ratified five members of Con-
gress were elected—Messrs. Bonzano, Field, Mann,
Wells,
and Taliaferro. A Legislature was also
elected, the members of which were almost entirely
in favor of a free State. At the close of the year
1864, notwithstanding this reorganization of the
State Government, there was more than three-
fourths of the State to which it was not safe to send
military supplies.


The Constitutional Convention, though it had it
in its power to establish universal suffrage, or to
restrict the suffrage of white citizens, did not adopt
either of these measures. General Banks while
yet in command at New Orleans said:


“It was with much hesitation that the mass of people
entered into measures for the organization of Government.
Some were ready, but others reluctant. Revolution makes
the mass of men timid. It required the strongest repre-
sentations of public advantage to induce them to venture
again into the stormy sea of politics. Had it been an-
nounced that the negroes, who were largely in the ma-
jority, against the example, advice, and instructions of all
branches of the Government, were to be admitted to the
right of suffrage by military order, it would have resulted
in an exclusive negro constituency.”


After the reorganization of the State under Gen-
eral Banks's order, Louisiana—or that portion of it
within our military power—was treated by the Ex-
ecutive as restored to its normal relations to the
General Government. Under the call for troops
issued in December, 1864, a draft was ordered to
take place in the Department of the Gulf (then un-
der General Canby) February 15, 1864. But the
members of Congress elected in September were
not admitted to their seats. A majority of the Com-
mittee, to whom their credentials had been submit-
ted, reported in favor of their admission, but their
report was not acted upon, though Congress ap-
propriated money for defraying the expenses of the
Louisiana delegation. Upon reviewing the Con-
gressional debates on this question we find that
Congress claimed that it was its work to recon-
struct the State, and not the President's, and that
there was a want of harmony between the Execu-
tive and Legislative Departments of the Govern-
ment on the subject of reconstruction very similar
to that which exists now between President John-
son
and the Thirty-ninth Congress.



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