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On the Congressional Sovereignty
Remarks of Representative Thaddeus Stevens,
delivered in Lancaster, Pa., September 27, 1866

 

 

    "The Goddess of Liberty is represented in ancient statues as a very nice little goddess, but very small. I want her to grow -- to put on the habiliments of mature age -- until she can embrace within her folds every nation, and every tribe and every human being within God's canopy. {Loud cheers.} I care not what you say of Negro equality; I care not what you say of radicalism; these are my principles, and with the help of God I shall die with them. I ask no epitaph, I shall have none; but I shall go with a pure consciousness of having tried to serve the whole human race, and never having injured a human being."
 

     Mr. STEVENS.  I come not to make a speech, but for want of one. When I left Washington I was somewhat worn down by labors and disease, and I was directed by my physician neither to think, to speak nor to read until the next session of Congress, or I should not regain my strength.

    I have followed the first injunction most religiously, for I believe I have not let an idea pass through my mind to trouble me since Congress adjourned. The second one, not to speak, I was seduced from keeping by some noble friends in the mountain districts of Pennsylvania, and I made a speech at Bedford, the only one I have made. The third one, not to read, I have followed almost literally. It is true I have amused myself with a little light frivolous reading. I have taken up the dailies and publications of that kind, and read things which would make no impression upon the mind. For instance, there was a serial account from day to day of a very remarkable circus that traveled through the country {laughter} from Washington to Chicago, and St Louis and Louisville back to Washington. {Renewed laughter} I read that with some interest, expecting to see in so celebrated an establishment -- one which, from its heralding, was to beat Dan Rice and all the old circuses that ever went forth. I expected great wit from the celebrated character of its clowns. {Great laughter} They were well provided with clowns; instead of one there were two, as the circus was to have a large circulation. One of these clowns was high in office and somewhat advanced in age; the other was a little less advanced in office, but older in years. They started out with a very respectable stock company. In order to attract attention they took with them, for instance, a celebrated general; they took with them an eminent naval officer, and they chained him to the rigging so that he could not get away, though he tried to do so once or twice. They announced the most respectable stock company that ever went forth with a manager or circus, though they had no very good man for the spring boards; but they took with them for a short distance a very good man, accustomed to ground and lofty tumbling, called Montgomery Blair. {Laughter} And as they wanted to get up side-shows, as is always precedent where anything is to be made out of these concerns, they switched him off in various directions with a hand-organ and a monkey. {Laughter} Up through the mountain region, where I encountered them, Montgomery Blair was there, with Judge Kimmel, whom they called his monkey, as the two beasts looked and acted alike. But the circus went on all the time, giving performances at different points, sometimes one clown performing and sometimes the other. So far as I was able to judge the younger clown was the most vigorous, and had the most energy and malignity. The elder clown [Seward], owing to the wear and tear of age and suffering -- you know he had his arm broken and his jaw broken, and his neck broken almost --{laughter] inducing a necessity for certain opiates, which had very much worn down his vigor -- I looked upon his performance as rather silly; for instance the younger clown told them in the language of the ancient heroes who trod the stage, that he had it in his power, if he choose, to be Dictator. The elder clown pointed to the other one, and said to the people, "Will you have him for President, or will you take him for king? {Laughter.} He left you but one alternative. You are obliged to take him for one or the other, either for President or king, if "My Policy" prevails. I am not following them all around. I shall not describe to you how sometimes they cut outside the circle and entered into broils with common blackguards; how they fought at Cleveland and Indianapolis and other points. I shall not tell you; for is it not all written down in Colonel Forney's Chronicle? {Laughter and cheers} But coming round, they told you, or one of them did, that he had been everything but one. He had been a tailor, I think he did not say drunken tailor; no, he had been a tailor {laughter} -- he had been a constable --{laughter} -- he had been a city alderman -- {renewed laughter} -- he had been in the Legislature. God help that Legislature! {Great merriment} He had been in Congress, and now he was President. He had been everything but one --he had never been hangman and he asked for leave to hang Thad Stevens. {Laughter}

    Now, I have given you badinage enough. As I stated that I would not make a speech, I will state one point of some substance. The great question between the President and Congress is not how we shall reconstruct the States, but who shall have the power. That is the great question for this nation to determine, and upon your decision depends the security or the despotism of this Government. When the Southern States went out of the Union, through rebellion, and all the ties that bound them to the Union were consumed in the hot fires of the war, they became conquered provinces under our armies. By the law of nations, the sovereign power of this nation was to fix their fate. Who is that sovereign power? {Cries of "Congress," "Congress."} If that power is the President, the he is right, and may go on reconstructing the States in his own way. But if Congress has the sovereign power, then the issue is in our favor. As I said, the sovereignty of the nation must fix the status of the new States and of conquered regions. By the Constitution of the United States, in a single sentence, the first paragraph of the first article of the Constitution says that all legislative power shall be vested in Congress, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. There is the whole legislative power of the nation. You cannot find a word in the Constitution which gives any other branch of the Government one particle of legislative power. How, then, is it that the sovereign power rests in the President? In this country there is but one depository of sovereign power, of sovereignty of the nation. It rests in the people, and nowhere else; and the people speak through Congress to all their servants. Therefore, it is you, the sovereigns of the nation, who are reconstructing these States. In no other branch of the government can you find a particle of sovereignty. The President cannot even erect a bureau. He cannot do a legislative act. He is the servant of the people as they order through Congress. Now, then, Congress is the sovereign power, because the people speak through them; and Andrew Johnson must learn that he is your servant, {cheers,} and that as Congress shall order he must obey. {Cheers.} There is no escape from it. God forbid that he should have one title of power except what he derives through Congress and the Constitution. {Cheers.} This is the whole question. The question of how our States shall be reconstructed is another one, to which I shall now refer. I shall only apologize for having detained you.

   
Mr. Stevens here retired, but the calls for his reappearance were so prolonged that he again came forward, and, amid, loud cheering, said:

    I suppose you never fought chickens in your young days. {Laughter} If you had you know there was a breed that they called the "Wheelers." They would fight awhile and then go back, and then turn and fight again. I must be a Wheeler, I suppose. {Cheers and Laughter} And since you have called me out, and I am able to speak, I will explain one single point, which I have been informed my friend Mr. Doolittle made particularly upon me, and which, I have no doubt, some of my Republican friends considered particularly well made to put me below the ticket. I cannot blame them in this. I shall not blame them for anything of the kind, but I shall be just as good friends with them as before.
But let me explain: He spoke of Negro equality. Let me tell you exactly how it is. He, I understand, found fault with me, particularly because I advocated what he called Negro equality. Under our law there not a word said in either the civil rights' bill or the new proposed amendment about color. It simply provides that the same law which punishes one man shall punish any other for the same offence; it simply provides that the law which gives a verdict to one man shall render the same verdict to another, whether he is Dutch, Irish or Negro. {Cheers} Is there anything wrong with that? {Voices, "No!" "No!"} That is the doctrine of Negro equality. There is nothing which prohibits the Negro from learning to read and write and say his prayers. There is nothing in it which says he shall have anything superior to another.

 

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