The New Enforcement Law

February 17, 1871


The House will discuss a bill that would control state representatives for Congress. The Dispatch discusses the loopholes, based on the Virginia Constitution, that can expel Virginia from this form of control.


To-day the House of Representatives, at Washington, will discuss, and possibly pass, a bill providing that General Grant and other Federal officials shall have entire control over all elections at which members of Congress or electors of President and Vice-President are to be chosen. The several States can protect themselves from this insolent interference on the part of the Federal Government only by providing that no State, county, or city elections shall take place at the same time with the elections aforesaid. The Virginia constitution fixes the time of the Congressional and other elections in the State, and therefore the General Assembly cannot Itself make the change necessary for the protection of the people of Virginia from Federal control. But the General Assembly can begin the work. It can submit the question to the voters as the Constitution provides, and before the next Congressional and Presidential elections that instrument can be so altered as to allow our own elections to be held at a time when these usurpers cannot supervise them. This is an important matter as important as any which could engage the attention of the Legislature-and we trust that it will not be neglected. If we sit down in idleness and allow ourselves to be hand-cuffed we shall soon find ourselves at the mercy of the unprincipled party that has already well-nigh ruined the country. The country members of the General Assembly need not suppose that they are not concerned in this matter. Last year Richmond only, of all the places in Virginia, was beset by the minions of the Federal Government, as the law at that time was limited in its operation to places having more than 20,000 inhabitants. The new bill extends the operation of the law to every county in the State, as we last year predicted would be the case. Little by little is the mode in which our liberties are stolen. Here follow some of the features of the law as it will soon stand : "The bill comprises eighteen sections, but it may be briefly summed up as a measure making the Federal election law of last session more stringent in most every respect, by imposing penalties of fine and imprisonment regarding the registration of voters, extending its operations beyond the cities whose population exceeds twenty thousand inhabitants, to every county, provided two citizens shall apply to the judge of the United States Circuit Court in whose circuit the town or city may be located, that they desire the law to be enforced in said place, and requiring said court to provide for the appointment of Federal inspectors and supervisors of election to attend all registration of voters and elections for Representative or Delegate to Congress, and to remain in session while the act is being in force to transact business under it. Elaborate powers are given to the inspectors to inspect at all times on the day of election the way the voting is done, and the way the registry, tally-books, and lists arc kept, and to personally scrutinize, count, and canvass every ballot, whatever may be the endorsement on said ballot, or in whatever box it may be placed or found, and to forward their report to a chief supervisor provided by this act for each judicial district. Provision is made for the United States marshal and a number of deputies to protect and assist the inspectors, and to arrest without any warrant any person who attempts to commit any act prohibited by this supplemental act. No one is to be arrested, however, for any offence not committed within the presence of The marshal or his deputies. Anv State or local officer who interferes is liable to arrest, with punishment not exceeding a thousand dollars' fine and two years' imprisonment. Any person who gives false information about the verification of a vote or a registry list shall be held for a misdemeanor. The 12th section gives the marshal power to call on the military or naval forces of the United States to enable him to enforce the law. It is made the duty of the commanding officers of these United States forces to obey the requisition for troops and vessels of war without delay. Provision is made for the transfer of any suit brought by an aggrieved citizen against a Federal officer from a State court to the United States Circuit Court, and to render the judgment of a State court in such a case null and void. Sections 5 and 0 of the act of last session, to amend the naturalization laws and to punish crime against the same, are repealed by this bill, though such repeal is not to affect pending suits. It will be noticed that this supplemental measure is more stringent in its details and fines and penalties than the enforcement act or Federal election law of last session."
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Megan Wiora




“The New Enforcement Law,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed February 1, 2023,