I now invite your attention to our relations with the federal government.
Thur far our people have manifested their loyalty and desire to return to the Union, by doing all that the government was understood to desire. They have taken the oath prescribed in the proclamation of the President, "to support the Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunder, and to abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves." They have held an election, under the proclamation of the provisional governor, for memebers of a State convention. That convention has annulled the ordinance of secession. It has repudiated all debts contracted by the State since the date of the secession. It has declared that all those who were slaves are now free. It has opened to them all the courts. It has admitted them as witneses in all cases in which they are interested. And, in short, they have left nothing undone which they understood the government to desire.
At the conclusion of the session of the convention, our much esteemed provisional governor, who represents the President, and so deservedly possesses his confidence as well as that of our people, appeared before that body and said; "I congratulate you upon the termination of your labors. The result of them merits and receives my entire apporbation as provisional governor. As a citizen of the State, I approve of nearly all that you have done. Speaking, however, merely as any other citizen, I confess that some of your action I could have preferred to have been different. But, as provisional governor, I am entirely satisfied with what you have done. You have done everything that in my official capacity I asked you to do. I asked nothing but what was right. You have done it all, and in the right spirit. Your action in reagrd to negro testimony receives my especial commendaion. You have met the issue fairly and fully, and have done all that could have been desired. The conventions of other States have evaded it by transferring it to their legislatures. I hope they will be successful and prosperous, but feel that the action of Florida, so fully in accordance with the wishes of the President, will place her in a better situation than theirs. With such a constitution as you have adopted, there can be no reason to doubt the admission of your representative and senators into the Congress of the United States."
Thus we have the indorsement of the government itself upon the action of our convention, that "they have done all that could have been desired, and in the right spirit."
Yes, gentlemen, the convention did all that it could do. And now one thing remains for the legislature to do which the convention could not do, and that is to ratify the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which reads as follows:
"First. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Second. And Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
I cannot better give you the reasons why this amendment should be adopted, and at the same time the true meaning of the second clause thereof, than by repeating to you a portion of the correspondence which recently took place between the President and the provisional governor of South Carolina.
On the 28th of October last, the President telegraphed to the governor as follows:
"I hope your legislature will have no hesitation in adopting the amendment to the Constitution of the United States abolishing slavery. It will set an example which will no doubt be followed by the other States, and place South Carolina in a most favorable attitude before the nation. I trust in God that it will be done. The nation and State will then be left free and untrammelled to take that course which sound policy, wisdom and humanity may suggest."
Three days subsequently the President telegraphed to the governor as follows:
"There is deep interest felt as to what course the legislature will take in regard to the adoption of the amendment of the Constitution of the United States abolishing slavery, and the assumption of the debt created to aid in the rebellion against the government of the United States. I trust in God that the restoration of the Union will not be defeated, and all that has so far been well done thrown away. I still have faith that all will come out right yet. This opportunity ought to be understood and appreciated by the people of the southern States. If I know my own heart and every passion which enters it, it is my desire to restore the blessings of the Union, and tie up and heal every bleeding wound which has been caused by the fratricidal war. Let us be guided by love and wisdom from on high, and union and peace will once more reign throughout the land."
To these telegraphic despatches the provisional governor replied, among other things, that "there was no objection to the adoption of the propsed amendment to the federal Constitution, except an apprehension that Congress might, under the second section of that amendment, claim the right to legislate for the negro after slavery was abolished."
To this the Secretary of State replied on the 6th of November, stating, among other things, as follows:
"The objections which you mention to the last clause of the constitutional amendment is regarded as querulous and unreasonable, because that clause is really restraining in its effects instead of enlarging the power of Congress. The President considers the acceptance of the amendment by South Carolina as indispensable to a restoration of her relations with the other States of the Union."
The President of the United States, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, are all understood to concur in this obvious meaning of the proposed amendment, and with this understanding I earnestly recommend it to your adoption. Congress can only enforce, "by appropriate legislation," the non-existence of slavery. This being done, their power is exhausted, and "the apprehension that Congress might, under the second section of the amendment, claim the right to legislate for the negro after slavery was abolished." "is regarded as querulous and unreasonable, because that clause is really restraining in its effects instead of enlarging the powers of Congress."
The only other objection I have heard to the adoption of this amendment is, that its adoption may only be opening the door to a demand for new concessions. My answer is, that we have no reason to believe that this will be so. It is unfair and ungenerous to suppose that the government is endeavoring to inveigle us into the adoption of certain measures with a promise of a restoration of our rights in the Union, when in fact it does not mean to admit us upon the adoption of those measures, but intends to make further demands after the first shall have been acquiesced in. Such a suspicion is entirely unworthy of the course which the President of the United States has pursued towards us since the cessation of hostilities. He told us frankly from the beginning what would be required of us. I know that he told me in July last the adoption of this amendment would be expected. Our provisional governor told us so in his speech at Quincy, and on other occasions. All the action of the convention was had with a full knowledge of that expectation, and in the adoption of the amendment you will but be completing a series of measures which they knew must be completed to secure to the State all her rights as a member of the Union.
The new demand which, I am informed, some fear will be made, is that of negro suffrage. I am satisfied that ths demand will never be made by the President. If there is any one thing that he is more pledged to than another, it is that of allowing each State to "prescribe the qualifications of electors and eligibility of persons to hold office under the constitution and laws of the State - a power which (he says) the people of the several States composing the federal Union have rightfully exercised from the origin of the government to the present time." This is the language used and the position taken by him in his proclamation organizing the first provisional government in North Carolina. On the 3rd of October last he said, "Our only safety lies in allowing each State to control the right of voting by its own laws;" and in his message to Congress, which we have just received, he stands firmly, fairly, and squarely up to his original position.
Nor do I think that this unjust demand will ever be made by Congress. I think the position of the President will be sustained. The recent vote in Connecticut and Wisconsin, expressly repudiating negro suffrage, together with the fact that it is allowed in only a few States of the Union, and in those few only with qualifications, renders it highly improbable that a Congress of northern men will compel us to admit it while they reject it themselves. To do so would be to assert that many generations of freedom have not qualified the few negroes in their midst to vote, while as many generations of slavery have qualified our millions.
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Congress should make this demand, what then? Still I say we will be in a better position by having adopted the amendment. We will have done all that the President desired us to do, and so far as the executive department is concerned, we may be considered as in the Union and entitled to the enjoyment of all its blessings, for the President most feelingly says, "If I know my own heart and every passion which enters it, it is my desire to restore the blessings of the Union, and tie up and heal every bleeding wound which has been caused by the fratricidal war." We may then reasonably hope that ere long martial law will cease to prevail in our State, that civil law will be fully restored, and the authority and jurisdiction of the State government entirely reinstated.
If Congress shall unexpectedly refuse to admit our senators and representative, because we have not allowed negro suffrage, we must then, without manifesting any undue impatience, wait until Congress shall think better of the matter. The justice of our cause, the influence of the President, and the good sense and patriotism of the nation, cannot fail to give us our representation in the end.
Of course we could never accede to the demand for negro suffrage, should it be made.
We have manifested that our loyalty and desire to renew our relations with the Union are so great that to do so we are willing to yield everything but our honor and our consciences. We have all lost much - many of us our all - all but our honor. Let us preserve that, though we lose everything else. We have been able to give an honest and conscientious consent to all that has been done, but each one of us knows that we could not give either an honest or a conscientious assent to negro suffrage. There is not one of us that would not feel that he was doing wrong, and bartering his self-respect, his conscience, and his duty to his country and to the Union itself, for the benefits he might hope to obtain by getting back into the Union. Much as I have worshipped the Union, and much as I would rejoice to see my State once more a recognized member thereof, yet it is better, a thousand times better, that she should remain out of the Union, even as one of her subjugated provinces, than go back "eviscerated of her manhood," despoiled of her honor, recreant to her duty, without her self-respect, and of course without the respect of the balance of mankind - a miserable thing, with the seeds of moral and political death in herself, soon to be communicated to all her associates.
Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1866, Florida - Louisiana - Texas, pages 17-19.