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Remarks On The Declaration Of Independence
Speech of Representative Thaddeus Stevens
in Congress January 15, 1867

 

      Mr. STEVENS. Mr. Speaker, several gentlemen have asked exultingly if anybody denies that this is a Republic, and that the States are republics. Sir, anything is a republic which you choose to call a republic. Rome was a republic under her worst consuls and emperors. They called it so. There have been republics everywhere in the midst of despotism. You may call what you choose a republic. What I am to speak now is the Republic intended by the Declaration of Independence, and I deny that this Government has ever been such a republic; and that is an answer to the gentlemen; I wish this Congress would take it in hand and make it a republic.
 

    Now, what was the Republic contemplates by the Declaration of Independence? "All men are created free and equal" and "all rightful government is founded on the consent of the governed." Nothing short of that is the Republic intended by the Declaration. But we are now attempting to build a perfect Republic. We are now attempting to finish a structure whose foundations were laid nearly a century ago.  That structure is the temple of liberty, where all nations may worship. Men who, if ever there were demi-gods deserved the name, suddenly appeared on the scene of political action -- the Adamses, Thomas Jefferson, and their compeers, and created an epoch in the science of government. Rejecting the old doctrine of hereditary succession and the divine right of kings, they boldly proclaimed the equality of the human race, and asserted that the right of all government was founded on the consent of the governed. Upon this Declaration alone stood the American Revolution. The people then had no actual grievance which would justify the shedding of one drop of human blood.
 

    But they fought and bled for this sublime idea. In this sign they conquered. But when peace and security had come, and the several sovereignties attempted to "form a more perfect Union," they found themselves obstructed by a pernicious and unyielding institution in direct hostility to their avowed principles, and they were obliged to trust time to eradicate it. They left the foundation firm, beautiful, and imperishable, and waited for the arrival of this propitious period to complete the superstructure. What a glorious sight it were to look in upon this Hall and see those great men revived, rejuvenated -- occupying their seats and finishing their imperfect work, proclaiming universal liberty and equality to the human race! But that may not be. They have left this scene of action, as we soon shall, never to return. They enjoined upon their posterity to complete their labor. Are we that posterity or are we bastards? Are we the legitimate descendents of the men of the Revolution, or did some untutored horde of the dark ages break in and corrupt the progeny? If we fail to complete this superstructure in harmony with the foundation, we must be dwarfs in intellect or in moral courage.

   
   
Gentlemen loudly ask is this not a Republic? I measure it by the Declaration of Independence, as I did twenty years ago in this Hall when I denounced it as a despotism. Call you that a free Republic where there are twenty million rulers and four million slaves -- human beings without one human right?
 

    South Carolina has two hundred thousand whites and four hundred thousand men of color. Both are men; both have immortal souls. The two hundred thousand absolutely rule the four hundred thousand. They have no voice in anything connected with the government which rules them. Is this a Government deriving its force from the consent of the governed? Shame upon American statesmen, who in this day of their power hold such vile doctrine! Do not delay, give us now the Republic of the Declaration of Independence, and le the world behold and admire.
 

    I would like to add a few things more, but I am not well enough.   

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