Opinion of the Attorney General Upon the Reconstruction Acts

May 27, 1867


A letter to President Andrew Johnson from the Attorney General in Virginia focuses on the status of Reconstruction with references to voting and office positions.It shares the opinion that all persons are entitled to vote.


Opinion of the Attorney General Upon the Reconstruction Acts. Washington, May 25. -- The Attorney General has prepared the following opinion upon the clauses of the reconstruction act with reference to voting and holding office. The provisions relative to the duties and powers of commanding officers, etc., will be considered in a future opinion: Attorney General's Office, May 24, 1867. To the President: Sir, -- I have the honor to state my opinion upon the questions arising under the act of March 2, 1867, entitled "an act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States," and the act of March 23, 1867, entitled "an act supplementary to an act entitled an act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States." Upon which questions military commanders of districts in which these States are comprised have asked your instructions. The first and most important of these questions may be thus stated: Who are entitled to vote and who are disqualified from voting at elections provided for or coming within the purview of these acts? The first prevision upon this subject is to be found in the fifth section of the original act, and declares the qualifications and disqualifications of voters for an election to be held for delegates to a proposed constitutional convention in each State, and for the election to be held for the ratification of a constitution that may be framed by such convention. That section provides that delegates to such convention shall be elected by the male citizens of said State twenty-one years old and upwards, of whatever race, color or previous condition, who have been resident in said State for one year previous to the day of such election, except such as may be disfranchised for participation in the rebellion or for felony at common law; that the same qualifications so required for the election of delegates shall also be required upon the election for the ratification. This proviso to this section also excludes from the right to vote tor delegates to a convention every person excluded from the privilege of building office by an amendment to the Constitution of the United States proposed by the Thirty-ninth Congress and known as article fourteen. The sixth section provides that "until the people of the said rebel States shall be by law admitted to representation in the Congress of the United States, any civil governments which may exist therein shall be deemed provisional only, and in all respects subject to the paramount authority of the United States at any time to abolish, modify, control, or supersede the same, and in all elections to any office under such provisional governments, all persons shall be entitled to vote (and none others) who are entitled to vote under the provisions of the filth section of this act; and no person shall be eligible to any office under any such provisional government who would be disqualified from holding office under the provisions of the third article of the said constitutional amendment." It is to be observed here that the qualifications of a voter are, by the fifth section limited to the election of delegates to the convention and to the question whether such convention shall not be held, and that no qualification is declared for a delegate so to be elected. But by the sixth section the same qualifications as to a voter are required in all elections to any office under the existing provisional governments during their continuance; and as to eligibility at such elections, certain classes are excluded.
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“Opinion of the Attorney General Upon the Reconstruction Acts,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed March 29, 2023, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/614.