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Remarks on the Readmission of Rebel States
January 5, 1867, delivered in Congress

Page One   



   Mr. Speaker, I do not rise to make any lengthy reply to the distinguished gentleman from Ohio, {Mr. SPALDING.} Certainly I shall enter into no personal controversy with him, for I have no feeling which would induce me to raise a personal issue with him.  But when any gentleman advances doctrines here, I feel those doctrines are public property, to be dealt with by each of us according to our sense of their soundness and worth, and that their condemnation ought to be in no way offensive to those gentlemen whose doctrines are thus condemned.  They use the same privilege in regard to others. Hence I wish to say to the gentleman from Ohio that I had no idea that my condemnation of some of his views was in any way a personal matter, or that it could be made personally offensive. If I had supposed so, I should have forborne those remarks. It is my desire here, while I deal boldly and fearlessly with principles, to deal fairly and justly with all individuals of this House of all parties.  So much with regard to the animus of my remarks, which the gentleman appears to have misunderstood.

    Now, going back upon the ground-work of those remarks, which was the resolution introduced by him some weeks ago, and which he has read to the House this morning, listening to his resolution from this point and to his attack upon the editor of the Washington Chronicle for what he had said with regard to the purport of the resolution, I could not help thinking that the gentlemen's views differed from mine. He may be right, but I gave it as my opinion that his views were wrong and mischievous. I hold the same doctrine to-day.

    Now, sir, what I meant by that was this: that resolution was the entering wedge into this House of the idea, the sanction of the idea, that when the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States should be adopted the States now in rebellion were to be admitted to their representation in this House. I knew that that doctrine had been assumed in some of the States, and had been enunciated in their platforms. I knew it had been argued, not only in the district of the gentleman, {Mr. SPALDING,} but in other districts in Ohio, and the people there had been taught the doctrine that the constitutional amendment which we had proposed was the final action of Congress in regard to the admission of those States. In my judgment, a more pernicious heresy never was promulgated anywhere or by any party; and it left us open, if it were once adopted, to the influx from the South of all the unreconstructed rebels that choose to come here. I agree with the gentleman that when three fourths of the loyal States shall have ratified that amendment -- and I suppose all on this side of the House agree with me -- it will become a part of the Constitution of the United States.  Then, it being part of the Constitution, according to the doctrine to which I referred, what is there for the southern States to do but send their Representatives to this Hall? If that was the final action of Congress before we admitted the rebels into this Hall, whenever, in a few days the northern States, the States that proposed the amendment, shall by a three-fourths vote have ratified it, then, if the doctrine to which I have referred shall prevail, there is no earthy power in this House to keep them out.

    Now, I put to this House and to the country if that would not be the most pernicious --"pernicious" is the word I used in regard to the gentleman's resolution -- if that would not be the most pernicious doctrine, the most pernicious action that any rebel sympathizer could propose to this body? I did not misunderstand entirely the resolution of the gentleman, and I do not now.  As I read it -- not perhaps as the gentleman understands it -- it is a soft invitation, a feeling-the-way to the very thing which I have just now stated. What was the resolution?

    "Resolved, That the committee on reconstruction be requested to inquire into the expediency of passing a joint resolution declaratory of the purpose of Congress in the reception of Senators and Representatives from the rebellious States, respectively, upon the ratification by them of the constitutional amendment and the establishment of republican forms of government not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States."


    Now, sir, I think I saw this tadpole before it had its present shape. I think its present form is due in some measure to the gentleman's colleague, {Mr. BINGHAM,} at whose suggestion, I am inclined to believe, it was modified. In its present form the resolution looks a little better, but it really means nothing different. Why instruct the committee to inquire into the propriety of adopting a joint resolution providing for the admission of the Representatives and Senators from those States as soon as the amendment is adopted if it was not intended as a broad insinuation that such a resolution should be passed, and that the southern rebels should be admitted on the adoption of the amendment? If that was not the purpose, why was the proposition offered?

    But the gentleman complained of the editor of the Chronicle, for it was in answer to an article of the editor that the gentleman made his remarks. He said that the editor charged him with inconsistency.  The language of the resolution contemplates "the reception of Senators and Representatives from the rebellious States respectively upon the ratification by them of the constitutional amendment," distinctly inviting and legalizing the actions of those States upon the constitutional amendment. Could anything more effectually stultify this body? The gentleman did not intend to stultify us; but he would have done it undoubtedly. We have been fighting upon the ground that there are ten outlawed rebel communities ---

    Mr. SPALDING. Will the gentleman allow me to ask a question?

    Mr. STEVENS. Yes, sir.

    Mr. SPALDING. Will the gentleman have the goodness to say whether, in his judgment, the adoption of the constitutional amendment has any bearing whatever on the reconstruction of those States?

    Mr. STEVENS. Not he least, except so far as it provides that when we find those States fit for admission they shall not overwhelm us by a representation based upon the Negroes who are not voters. That, in my judgment, is the vital feature of the constitutional amendment.  It contains other wholesome provisions, but its great virtue is, that it cuts down the representation of those States; takes away their power to overrule us when they shall have formed proper constitutions and shall be deemed fit for admission to representation.  The idea that the constitutional amendment contains anything contemplating its submission to the action of the southern States is altogether idle.  It need not go there.  If we once adopt it and they choose to come in, why ask them to ratify it?  They come in as any other State would come in, under the Constitution as amended, and they are bound by it, whether they ever choose to ratify it or not. To ask them to vote upon it would be stultifying ourselves, as the editor of the Chronicle has justly said, for it would be treating them as States, and asking them to take State action upon what Congress has sent forth for the action of the loyal States.  After doing this, how could we say to the Executive, "Why, sir, you are wrong; these are no States?" "What?" that astute gentlemen would reply, "not States? You have sent to them an invitation to ratify this amendment to the Constitution. Not States? What are they? Are they disorganized communities, lying about, as you pretend? Why, you have solemnly asked them to unite with every loyal State in an action which none but States can take." Will the gentleman tell me whether by placing ourselves in that posture we should not stultify ourselves?

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