An Unconstitutional and Dangerous Measure
April 10, 1871
According to the Dispatch, the Kuklux bill that is being prepared in Congress is a violation of the Constitution. The bill is attempting to gain control over the 14th Amendment and be will be used for broader purposes that takes rights away from the states. The 14th Amendment is also prohibiting states from making laws that will compromise the rights of citizens, which the Dispatch his highly critical of.
The Kuklux bill which has been prepared by a few Republicans in Congress is, in some of its provisions, a subterfuge and a delusion, and in others a palpable violation of the Constitution. It purports in its title to be a bill to enforce the fourteenth amendment; but it cautiously adds, "and for other purposes." The first three sections pretend to come under the first branch of the title. Now, the fourteenth amendment, after declaring that all persons are citizens of the United States, goes on to say that no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law and It winds up by providing that Congress, by appropriate legislation, may enforce the amendment. pretext for the passage of this new bill of pains and penalties is to put down what are called the Kuklux outrages. Assume, for the argument's sake, that they are as numerous as the advocates of this bill assert, does anybody pretend that they are committed under and in pursuance of any aw passed by any southern State? Everybody knows they are not, but, on the contrary, that they are violations of the laws of those Suites. Consequently, the legislation proposed is not justified by the 14th amendment. But these first three sections, while they pretend to be enforcing the provisions of the 14th amendment, and to that extent are a cheat, confer upon the President powers for the suppression of violations of law in the southern States which belong exclusively to the local authorities of those States, and not to Congress or the Federal Executive; and therefore these sections are a clear infringement of the Constitution and the rights of the States. But it is the fourth section that is the most objectionable and dangerous. Without the slightest warrant in the Constitution, without a precedent in our history, it confers powers upon the President which no Parliament since the days of the First Charles has ever entrusted to a King, and the exercise of which by that arbitrary monarch cost him his head. The States in question have been, and now are, with scarcely an exception, under the absolute control of the party that proposes to pass this bill. Whenever violations of law in any State have reached such a formidable stage that they deserve to be called an insurrection or a rebellion, then, according to the Constitution and the precedents, it is the duty of the Governor to notify the President of that fact and call for his assistance; and then, and not till then, the President has the right to interfere. But this bill utterly ignores this line of procedure, and thereby utters the severest condemnation of the carpet-bag administration at ion of the States in question. Ignoring them as inefficient and worthless, it bestows upon the President, in the first instance, the authority to proclaim any portion of those States in insurrection and rebellion, and thereupon to suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus and declare martial law therein, and then proceed to arrest, try at the drum-head, and shoot or hang, according to the rules and articles of war, anybody who has the misfortune to fall under the displeasure of General Grant. Stripped of its verbiage, this is the fourth section of the proposed law. Does any man in his senses believe that there now exists in the South a condition of affairs which warrants such summary, unprecedented, and unconstitutional proceedings as these? It will not do for the advocates of this dangerous policy to shelter themselves under acts deemed necessary during the red heat of our late civil war. On an occasion when a hill was pending in the House tor the suppression of the rebellion, and a Republican member was arguing to show that it was according to the Constitution, Mr. Thaddeus Stevens remarked in an under tone to a friend, "There are only tea Republicans in Congress who don't know that all this kind of legislation is outside of the Constitution, and they are d-d fools." If we then went outside of the Constitution to find weapons to save the life of the Republic, it is no excuse for keeping outside of it now to find weapons to put down a miserable gang which, beyond all doubt, is made up of the mere riff-raff of Southern society. Especially tor such a comparatively trivial purpose, we should not clothe a man like Gen. Grant with powers so extreme and unjustifiable. This bill is the joint product of partisanship and hypocrisy. Short-sighted Republicans may hope, through its provisions, to maintain the supremacy of the carpet-bag administrations, and thereby perpetuate the existence of their party in the South. But the real object lies deeper than this, The kingly powers given to General Grant are, by the terms of the bill, to cease on the first day of June, 1872. That is to say, he is to have absolute control over the southern States until after their delegates are chosen to the next National Convention of the Republican party, and by chicane, terrorism, and the sword, he is to be enabled to secure the appointment of delegates in one-third of the Union who are to be his tools in that Convention, and plot, clamor, and vote for his renomination. These are the real objects of this bill. It the Republicans dare to enact it into a Jaw, they will certainly be swept from power in November, 1872.
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“An Unconstitutional and Dangerous Measure,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed July 4, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/2029.