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Remarks on the Fourth Reconstruction Act,
Delivered December 18, 1867, in Congress

 

    Mr. STEVENS, of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, there is always some objection to everything I ever heard of on the earth or in heaven. {Laughter.} Now, sir, here is a bill which we have been petitioned to pass before the vacation, and it is the simplest thing in the world. The bill has been printed and is on our files and every gentleman has had a fair opportunity of reading it and understanding it. It is simple enough, and I can explain it in five minutes so that no man can misunderstand it.

    In the first place it restores the majority principle in voting on the constitution of the reconstructed States. In the second place it provides for the election of Representatives in Congress by those States at the same time the constitutions are voted on, and provides further that when the constitutions are ratified and declared valid, and these States are declared entitled to representation, those Representatives so elected shall be admitted into this House upon taking the legal oath, and not before.

    Well, now, sir, that is the whole of my bill except that which my friend from Ohio {Mr. Bingham} proposes to strike out. And here, by the by, let me modify my substitute by putting the number of Representatives from Virginia at eight. The third section leaves the apportionment as it was in 1860, only adding the additional number which the States are entitled in consequence of the liberation of the Negroes and the consequent change in the basis of representation. If any gentleman objects to that he can vote to strike the section. For my own part I think the States are entitled to the proposed representation here.

    Now, sir, that is the whole bill. I do not know if there is anything in it to which any gentleman can object; I cannot perceive it myself.

    The amendment of the gentleman from Tennessee, {Mr. MAYNARD,} which I understand proposes to give authority to the conventions that are to frame constitutions to form provisional governments that are to supersede the present military governments, strikes me rather favorably.  I find that the most horrible murders and outrages that it is possible for man to imagine are daily being committed in these States without there being any power anywhere, or at least any effort made, to punish the perpetrators.

    I received two letters this morning from New Orleans, from which I learn that since General Hancock has been there the country has been in a condition not equaled by anything from the worst times of La Vendee to the present time.  And I am satisfied that Texas is in precisely the same condition.

    Now, I am for giving the people, which in those States are the conventions, the right, as soon as they have framed their constitutions, signed them, and sent them forth to the people, to establish their own governments and elect their own officers until all these matters shall be finally arranged and these outlawed States shall be rehabilitated.

    I have neither the ability nor the inclination to say many words upon this subject at this time. But I have given, in as distinct language as I can, the precise provisions of this measure. In my opinion there is not one of them that is not a proper one for us to enact.

    {Bingham declares his approval of the first two sections of the bill, but opposes Section 3 because it increases the number of representatives from the 1861-62 apportionment. According to  Section 3, South Carolina, for example would have an increase of two representatives, while Ohio's representation in Congress remains the same.}

    Mr. STEVENS, of Pennsylvania. If the gentleman from Ohio {Mr. BINGHAM} will allow me one moment I would like to say that I do not want to insist on anything which may interfere with the passage of the bill. I therefore withdraw all that part of the bill which refers to additional representation.

    Mr. BINGHAM. I understand then, that the chairman of the committee withdraws the third section.

    Mr. STEVENS, of Pennsylvania. No, sir; only that part which proposes to make an addition to the number of Representatives to which these States were formerly entitled.

    Mr. BINGHAM. I beg leave to say to the gentleman -- and I certainly would not quibble with him at any time, and especially when laboring, as he is now, under physical disability -- that the second section recognizes the right of these States to representation according to existing law.

    Mr. STEVENS, of Pennsylvania.  Very well. I withdraw the third section.



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