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given to one the firm possession—by a three-fourths vote, I think, in both Houses—of the control of the action of each body of the Legislature? Reflect upon this. I do not touch upon the particular circumstance that the non-restoration of the Southern States has left your numbers in both Houses of Congress less than they might under other circumstances be. I do not calculate whether that absence diminishes or increases the disproportion that there would be. Possibly their presence might even aggravate the political majority which is thus arrayed and thus overrides practically all the calculations of the presidential protection through the guarantees of the Constitution. For what do the two-thirds provisions mean 2 They mean that in a free country, where elections were diffused over a vast area, no Congressman having a constituency of over seventy or eighty thousand people, it was impossible to suppose that there would not be a somewhat equal division of parties, or impossible to suppose that the excitements and zeal of party could carry all the members of it into any extravagance. I do not call them extravagances in any sense of reproach ; I merely speak of them as the extreme measures that parties in politics, and under whatever motives, may be disposed to adopt. Certainly, then, there is ground to pause and consider, before you bring to a determination this great struggle between the co-ordinate branches of the Government, this agitation and this conclusion, in a certain event, of the question whether the co-ordination of the Constitution can be preserved. Attend to these special circumstances, und determine for yourselves whether under these influences it is best to urge a contest which must operate upon the framework of the Constitution and its future, unattended by any exceptions of a peculiar nature that govern the actual situation. Ah, that is the misery of human affairs, that the stress comes and has its consequence when the system is least prepared to receive it. It is the misery that disease—casual, circumstantial—invades the frame when health is depressed and the powers of the constitution to resist it are at the lowest ebb. It is that the gale rises and sweeps the ship to destruction when there is no sea-room for it and when it is upon a lee shore. And if, concurrent with that danger to the good ship, her crew be short, if her helm be unsettled, if disorder begin to prevail, and there come to be a final struggle for the maintenance of mastery against the elements and over the only chances of safety, how wretched is the condition of that people whose fortunes are embarked in that ship of state . The strength of every system is in its weakest part. Alas, for that rule ! But when the weakest part breaks, the whole is broken. The chain lets slip the ship when the weak link breaks, and the ship founders.
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The body fails when the weak function is vitally attacked. And so with every structure, social and political, the weak point is the point of danger; and the weak point of the Constitution is now before you in the maintenance of the co-ordination of the departments of the Government, and if one cannot be kept from devouring another, then the experiment of our ancestors will fail. They attempted to interpose justice. If that fails, what can endure? We have come all at once to the great experiences and trials of a fullgrown nation, all of which we thought we should escape. We never dreamed that an instructed and equal people, with freedom in every form, with a Government yielding to the touch of popular will so readily, ever would come to the trials of force against it. We never thought that the remedy to get rid of a despotic ruler, fixed by a Constitution against the will of the people, would ever bring assassination into our political experience. We never thought that political differences under an elective presidency would bring in array the departments of the Government against one another to anticipate by ten months the operation of the regular election. And yet we take them all, one after another, and we take them because we have grown to the full vigor of manhood, when the strong passions and interests that have destroyed other nations, composed of human nature like ourselves, have overthrown them. But we have met by the powers of the Constitution these great dangers—prophesied when they would arise as likely to be our doom—the distractions of civil strife, the exhaustions of powerful war, the interruption of the regularity of power through the violence of assassination. We could summon from the people a million of men and inexhaustible treasure to help the Constitution in its time of need. Can we summon now resources enough of civil prudence and of restraint of passion to carry us through this trial, so that, whatever result may follow, in whatever form, the people may feel that the Constitution has received no wound 2 . To this court, the last and best resort for this determination, it is to be left. And oh, if you could only carry yourselves back to the spirit and the purpose and the wisdom and the courage of the framers of the Government, how safe would it be in your hands ! How safe is it now in your hands, for you who have entered into their labors will see to it that the structure of your work comports in durability and excellency with theirs. Act, then, as if, under this serene and majestic presence, your deliberations were to be conducted to their close, and the Constitution was to come out from the watchful solicitude of these great guardians of it as if from their own judgment in this High Court of Impeachment.
SCHUYLER COLFAX (1823-1885)
GRANT'S FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT
T the head of Washington's life-guards throughout the Revolutionary War was General William Colfax, the grandfather of the statesman with whom we are now concerned, and who served his country in its councils during its second great war as his soldier grandfather had done in arms during the first. Colfax's early political service was as editor of an able organ of the Whig party, the St. Joseph Valley Register. Born in the city of New York, he removed when young to Indiana, and for many years conducted this party journal at South Bend. He was otherwise active in party services, became a member of Congress in 1854, and continued to serve in the House until he gave up his seat to assume the duties of the VicePresident, in March, 1868. Made Speaker of the House in 1863, he was twice re-elected, his majority each time increasing. After four years' service as Vice-President under President Grant, he retired from political life. Colfax was a Republican statesman of much ability and an able orator. Of an eloquent speech made by him soon after entering Congress, on the Kansas question, five hundred thousand copies are said to have been printed and distributed.
THE CONFISCATION OF SLAVE PROPERTY
[The Civil War had not proceeded far before the question of depriving the Southerners of the property in human beings which they had made a cause of war became a subject of debate. The time was not ripe yet for emancipation, but General Butler settled the difficulty in his military district by putting them to work as “contraband of war,” and on April 23, 1862, Colfax made a vigorous speech, in which he strongly advocated their confiscation as a means of reducing the power of the opponents of the Union. We append a selection from his speech.]
The engineers of this rebellion—the Catilines who sat here in the council chambers of the Republic, and who, with the oath on their lips
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and in their hearts to support the Constitution of the United States, plotted treason at night, as has been shown by papers recovered in Florida, particularly the letter of Mr. Yulee, describing the midnight conclaves of these men to their confederates in the Southern States—should be punished by the severest penalties of the law, for they have added to their treason perjury, and are doubly condemned before God and man. Never, in any land, have there been men more guilty and more deserving of the extremest terrors of the law. The murderer takes but a single life, and we call him infamous. But these men wickedly and wilfully plunged a peaceful country into the horrors of a civil war, and inaugurated a régime of assassination and outrage against the Union men in their midst, hanging, plundering and imprisoning in a manner that throws into the shade the atrocities of the French Revolution. . . . . The blood of our soldiers cries out from the ground against them. Has not forbearance ceased longer to be a virtue 2 We were told a year ago that leniency would probably induce them to return to their allegiance and to cease this unnatural war; and what has been the result 2 Let the bloody battle-fields of this conflict answer. When I return home I shall miss many a familiar face that has looked in past years with the beaming eye of friendship upon me. I shall see those who have come home with constitutions broken down by exposure and wounds and disease to linger and to die. I shall see women whom I have met Sabbath after Sabbath leaning on beloved husbands' arms, as they went to the peaceful sanctuary, clothed now in widows’ weeds. I shall see orphans destitute, with no one to train their infant steps into paths of usefulness. I shall see the swelling hillock in the graveyard— where, after life's fitful fever, we shall all be gathered—betokening that there, prematurely cut off by a rifle ball aimed at the life of the Republic, a patriot soldier sleeps. I shall see desolate hearthstones and anguish and woe on every side. Those of us here who come from Indiana and Illinois know too painfully the sad scenes that will confront us amid the circles of our constituents. Nor need we ask the cause of all this suffering, the necessity for all these sacrifices. They have been entailed on us as part of the fearful cost of saving our country from destruction. But what a mountain of guilt must rest upon those who, by their efforts to destroy the Government and the Union, have rendered these terrible sacrifices necessary. Standing here between the living and the dead, we cannot avoid the grave and fearful responsibility devolving on us. The people will ask us when we return to their midst : “When our brave soldiers went forth to the battlefield to suffer, to bleed, and to die for their country, what did you
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civilians in the Halls of Congress do to cripple the power of the rebels whom they confronted at the cannon's mouth 2 What legislation did you enact to punish those who are responsible, by their perjury and treason, for this suffering, desolation and death P Did you levy heavy taxes upon us and our property to pay the expenses of a war into which we were unwillingly forced, and allow the men who are the guilty and reckless authors of it to go comparatively free ? Did you leave the slaves of these rebels to plant, and sow and reap, to till their farms, and thus support their masters and the armies of treason, while they, thus strengthened, met us in the field 2 Did you require the patriots of the loyal States to give up business, property, home, health, life and all for the country, and yet hesitate about using the law-making power of the Republic to subject traitors to the penalties as to property and possesions which their crimes deserve 2 I would feel as if worthy of the severest condemnation for life if I did not mete out to those who are the cause of all this woe and anguish and death, by the side of which all the vast expenses of the war dwindle into insignificance, the sternest penalties of the law, while they still remain in arms in their parricidal endeavor to blot this country from the map of the world. Why do we hesitate 2 These men have drawn the sword and thrown away the scabbard. They do not hesitate in punishing Union men within their power. They confiscate their property, and have for a year past, without any of the compunctions that trouble us here. They imprison John M. Botts for silently retaining a lingering love for the Union in his desolate home. They hang Union men in east Tennessee for bridgeburning, refusing them even the sympathy of a chaplain to console their dying hours. They persecute Brownlow because, faithful among the faithless, he refused, almost alone, in his outspoken heroism, to bow the Knee to the Baal of their worship. Let us follow his counsel by stripping the leaders of this conspiracy of their possessions and outlawing them hereafter from the high places of honor and of trust they have heretofore