Live-blogging the Fifteenth Amendment: January 27, 1869 (1)
I have gotten a little behind in this project. Congressional activity picked up considerably in the last week of January 1869.
Rep. Charles A.Eldridge (D-Wisconsin) addressed a civil rights bill by Massachusetts Representative Buckalew under the 14th Amendment as well as the proposed 15th Amendment:
I have not the vanity to suppose that anything I say will cause them to hesitate or consider. Party ends must be accomplished, party purposes must be carried out even though it should revolutionize the Government, overthrow the Constitution, and destroy the Republic.
Hamilton on the same subject in No. 59 of the Federalist … [said], ’Suppose an Article had been introduced into the Constitution empowering the United States to regulate the elections for the particular States, would any men have hesitated to condemn it, both as an unwarranted imposition of power and as a premeditated engine for the destruction of State governments?’
In those days no man would have hesitated to condemn it. The Constitution could never have been adopted if it had contained the grant of power to Congress to determine the qualification of voters for officers of the States. Such a work is left for these days of revolution and usurpation — to the mad fanatics who for particular ends would destroy our Republic of States.
The power to determine the qualifications of electors was, in the States conferred … by the people of the States…. All the powers of the Federal Government come up from the States and people, and it never had and never can have the rightful authority to exercise any power not granted in and by the Constitution. The exercise of any other is rank usurpation.
[I]t seems to me that this bill and resolution for the amendment of the Constitution … for the evils which exist in his judgment with reference to the persons who ought to exercise the right to suffrage, is a filo de se [crime of suicide]. If the power exists in the Federal government to pass this bill, … then I admit that Congress has the right to control the whole question of suffrage and the qualification of electors of all officers ….
Sir, I do not think the gentleman from Massachusetts gave a proper consideration to the fourteenth amendment, as it is called. I will not consider the question of whether this amendment is part of the Constitution; for myself I do not believe that it is….
Source: Congressional Globe, 40th Congress, Third Seeking, pp. 642-45
What is remarkable about this speech is that Eldridge is not just addressing the Civil Rights bill proposed by Buckalew, but also claims that the even Constitutional amendments are invalid to alter Federal vs. State powers. He considers the power of suffrage in the States to be beyond the control of any proposed revisions to the Constitution itself. Even Chief Justice Roberts, who in the Shelby County case found a right of States to be treated equally in all legislation out in the Constitutional ether, did not go this far.