Mr. Steven's Bill

February 15, 1867


The bill that would allow military despotism in the South will surely be pushed to the next senate session for review and vote. Currently, the men of the North support the bill even though it is frowned upon by the Southerners. The main reason for disagreement of this bill is that the counter bill basically disenfranchises the white men of the South and enfranchises the African-Americans.


It is barely possible that Mr. Steven's bill for governing the southern States by military officers will get through the Senate during the present session. If we had such judges on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States as England has in her Court of King's Bench its passage would be matter of no consequence. It is clearly unconstitutional. All that is lacking is a court to declare it so. Now, the Supreme Court would undoubtedly so decide if compelled to decide at all; but so timid and time-serving are its judges that they will shirk the duty if possible. In the cases of the test oaths they withheld their opinion from the public for twelve months after they had agreed upon it. And if a case testing the constitutionality of this bill were brought before them, they would not render a decision in two years. Congress cannot take away their jurisdiction over such cases, since the Constitution expressly declares that in all cases in which a State shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. Mr. Boutwell's remark that these southern States are no longer States because the House of Representatives says they are not, but that the Supreme Court might perhaps decide that they are States if that House should call them States, is, when thus reduced to its simplest terms, quite absurd. It assumes that the court is to be blinded or misled by mere words; whereas the tact is that tho court will pay no respect to any act of Congress which thus attempts to set at defiance its own recent decision that military tribunals for the trial of civilians are unconstitutional. A Federal General who should even under the authority of such a pretended law put a man to death would be held to be a murderer by the Supreme Court; and public opinion is certain to arrive at the same conclusion in tho end. Suppose the bill should become a law, and the Federal General in power here were to attempt to punish one of our citizens under its authority. The Constitution says that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except in time of war. Of course, then, any Judge of the court would issue the writ notwithstanding any law forbidding its issue. And, once in court, the case would not he allowed to get out until the constitutionality of the law purporting to authorize the military to override the civil authorities were passed upon. As to the relative merits of Stevens's bill and Elliott's bill, we can say for ourselves, and we think we can for ninetynine out of every hundred white men in the South, that we would much rather be governed by military officers than by negroes and their associates. Any one who will take the trouble to read Elliott's bill will see that it disfranchises almost every white man and enfranchises the negroes ; whereas Steven's bill mercifully turns us over to military officers, who are (Butler and a few others excepted) supposed to be men of some respectability, sense, and good judgment.
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Walker Black




“Mr. Steven's Bill,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed June 1, 2023,