Harper's Weekly 02/13/1869


The Republican Congress has just adopted
another of those great measures which com-
mend it to the confidence of all thoughtful men,
and to the gratitude of posterity. Down to
the year 1860 this country had been subject for
more than a generation to a party whose chief
aim was the utter degradation of a seventh of
the population. The purpose of the party that
succeeded it has been the elevation of every in-
dividual to a perfect equality of right and op-
portunity. The one sought prosperity and pow-
er by the most revolting tyranny; the other
aims at permanence and peaceful progress by
the most enlightened justice.

Mr. Boutwell, in introducing the amend-
ment of equal suffrage, well said that it was a
necessary and logical act for the Republican
party. It gives the express guarantee of the
United States to the political equality of all its
citizens, and secures the principle of the recon-
struction policy. The objection that it infringes
the right of the people to settle the suffrage pre-
cisely reverses the fact; for the amendment pro-
vides that no local law shall deprive any citizen
of a fundamental right secured to him by all the

There is, as we believe, no sound doubt of
the authority of Congress to establish equality
of suffrage by law. But a law is repealable by
a majority in Congress; a constitutional amend-
ment can be disturbed only by three-fourths of
the State Legislatures. It is certainly better
that a provision of such importance should be
intrenched in the fundamental law; and the
general feeling of the country would undoubt-
edly prefer that it should be so. Those who
hold that each State has a final right to arrange
the suffrage exactly as it pleases will be less
averse to a settlement which requires the sep-
arate consent of three-quarters of the States;
while those who believe that as the Government
is required to secure a republican system in
every State, it must necessarily have the power
to set aside a system which is not republican,
will yet gladly see the republican form secured
in a manner to which no constitutional excep-
tion can be ever formally taken. The only prac-
tical reason for the law rather than the amend-
ment, is the greater delay involved in the adop-
tion of the latter, and the possible injurious con-
sequences. But this is a consideration which
under the circumstances is secondary to the de-
sirability of the fundamental guarantee. The
Committee, however, to cover the whole case,
have recommended the passage of a law which
would serve until tne amendment is adopted.

The amendment is also a measure of wise
consolidation. It touches no right of which
any State can justly be jealous, or which it can
reasonably deny to the United States. The
first essential condition of a popular national
government is the equality of its citizens equal-
ly secured. Ours, indeed, is not a national
government in the simplest form; but, on the
other hand, it is not a league nor a confederacy
of States. It is a national Union. It has a
national substance and necessity, and the at-
tempt to regulate a national policy upon the
theory of State sovereignty as hitherto main-
tained is futile. The adoption of the amend-
ment will be the declaration of the people that
they perceive the legitimate conditions of a
truly national Union.

It will also tend rapidly to remove an exciting
question from politics. It is plain now that the
current of our political progress, for more than
a generation, has been toward the political
equality of all the people. The Democratic
party, which is the organized opposition to this
result, has been constantly defeated upon every
field, but still perplexes and delays it. The
Democratic representatives in Congress voted
in a body against the amendment, upon the
ground that it was a subject to be left to the
States, thus conceding to a possible majority in
a State the right to deprive a citizen of the
United States of his share in its government,
and to establish an unrepublican form if it
should choose. But the Republican party,
whose watchword is a constantly enlarging lib-
erty as the condition of increasing intelligence,
moves with the fraternal spirit of the age, and
will not have accomplished its work until it has
placed the government of the United States in
the hands of all the people.

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