The gentleman states his case too strongly. The duty imposed on Congress is doubtless important, but Congress has no right to use a means of performing it forbidden by the Constitution, no matter how necessary or proper it might be thought to be. But, sir, this doctrine is monstrous. It has no foundation in the Constitution. It subjects all the States to the will of Congress; it places their institutions at the feet of Congress. It creates in Congress an absolute, unqualified despotism. It asserts the power of Congress in changing the State governments to be “plenary, supreme, unlimited,” “subject only to revision by the people of the United States.” The rights of the people of the State are nothing; their will is nothing. Congress first decides; the people of the whole Union revise. My own State of Ohio is liable at any moment to be called in question for her constitution. She does not permit negroes to vote. If this doctrine be true, Congress may decide that this exclusion is anti-republican, and by force of arms abrogate that constitution and set up another, permitting negroes to vote. From that decision of Congress there is no appeal to the people of Ohio, but only to the people of New York and Massachusetts and Wisconsin, at the election of representatives, and, if a majority cannot be elected to reverse the decision, the people of Ohio must submit. Woe be to the day when that doctrine shall be established, for from its centralized despotism we will appeal to the sword!
Sir, the rights of the States were the foundation corners of the confederation. The Constitution recognized them, maintained them, provided for their perpetuation. Our fathers thought them the safeguard of our liberties. They have proved so. They have reconciled liberty with empire; they have reconciled the freedom of the individual with the increase of our magnificent domain. They are the test, the touchstone, the security of our liberties. This bill, and the avowed doctrine of its supporters, sweeps them all instantly away. It substitutes despotism for self-government—despotism the more severe because vested in a numerous Congress elected by a people who may not feel the exercise of its power. It subverts the government, destroys the confederation, and erects a tyranny on the ruins of republican governments. It creates unity—it destroys liberty; it maintains integrity of territory, but destroys the rights of the citizen.
OF PENNSYLVANIA. (BORN 1792, DIED 1868.)
On reconstruction; the radical republican theory;
House of representatives, December 18, 1865.