Mr. President, it has not been my fortune to participate in at any length, indeed, not to hear very much of, the discussion which has been going on—more, I think, in the hands of the Senator from Kentucky than anybody else—upon all the propositions connected with this war; and, as I really feel as sincerely as he can an earnest desire to preserve the Constitution of the United States for everybody, South as well as North, I have listened for some little time past to what he has said with an earnest desire to apprehend the point of his objection to this particular bill. And now—waiving what I think is the elegant but loose declamation in which he chooses to indulge—I would propose, with my habitual respect for him, (for nobody is more courteous and more gentlemanly,) to ask him if he will be kind enough to tell me what single particular provision there is in this bill which is in violation of the Constitution of the United States, which I have sworn to support—one distinct, single proposition in the bill.
Mr. Breckenridge. I will state, in general terms, that every one of them is, in my opinion, flagrantly so, unless it may be the last. I will send the Senator the bill, and he may comment on the sections.
Mr. Baker. Pick out that one which is in your judgment most clearly so.
Mr. Breckenridge. They are all, in my opinion, so equally atrocious that I dislike to discriminate. I will send the Senator the bill, and I tell him that every section, except the last, in my opinion, violates the Constitution of the United States; and of that last section, I express no opinion.
Mr. Baker. I had hoped that that respectful suggestion to the Senator would enable him to point out to me one, in his judgment, most clearly so, for they are not all alike—they are not equally atrocious.
Mr. Breckenridge. Very nearly. There are ten of them. The Senator can select which he pleases.
Mr. Baker. Let me try then, if I must generalize as the Senator does, to see if I can get the scope and meaning of this bill. It is a bill providing that the President of the United States may declare, by proclamation, in a certain given state of fact, certain territory within the United States to be in a condition of insurrection and war; which proclamation shall be extensively published within the district to which it relates. That is the first proposition. I ask him if that is unconstitutional? That is a plain question. Is it unconstitutional to give power to the President to declare a portion of the territory of the United States in a state of insurrection or rebellion? He will not dare to say it is.