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SPEECH E S.
THE RELATION OF THE "SECEDED STATES” (SO CALLED) TO THE
UNION, AND THE CONFISCATION OF PROPERTY, AND EMANCIPATION OF SLAVES, IN SUCH STATES, APRIL 10, 1862.
The House being in Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union, Mr. THOMAS said,
Mr. CHAIRMAN, — I avail myself of the indulgence of the Committee to make some suggestions upon subjects now attracting the attention of Congress and of the country, — the relations of the “seceded States” (so called) to the Union, the confiscation of property, and the emancipation of slaves, in such States. Sensible how deeply the interests of the country are involved in their right decision, I can only say, I have given to them careful and patient consideration, with an earnest hope and desire to learn what my duty is, and faithfully and firmly to discharge it.
The questions are novel as they are momentous. In the discussion of them, little aid can be derived from our own precedents, from the history of other nations, or from writers on constitutional and international law.. The solution of the difficult problems of right and duty
involved must be found in the careful study of the principles of the Constitution, and the just and logical application of them to this new condition of things.
The peculiar feature of our civil polity is, that we live under written constitutions, defining and limiting the powers of Government, and securing the rights of the individual subject. Our political theory is, that the people retain the sovereignty, and that the Government has such powers only as the people, by the organic law, have conferred upon it. Doubless these inflexible rules sometimes operate as a restraint upon measures, which, for the time being, seem to be desirable. The compensation is, that our experience has shown, that, as a general rule and in the long-run, the restraint is necessary and wholesome.
It is, I readily admit, by no narrow and rigid construction of the words of the Constitution that the powers and duties of Congress on these subjects are to be ascertained. Every provision must be fairly construed in view of the great objects the Constitution was ordained to effect, and with the full recognition of the powers resulting from clear implication as well as express grant. Designed as the bond of perpetual union and as the framework of permanent government, we should be very slow to conclude that it lacked any of the necessary powers for self-defence and self-preservation.
But recognizing the profound wisdom and foresight of the Constitution, and its adaptation to all the exigencies of war and peace, when a measure is proposed in apparent conflict with its provisions, we may well
pause to inquire, whether, after all, the measure is necessary; and whether we may not bend to the Constitution, rather than that the Constitution should give way
When we make necessity our lawgiver, we are very. ready to believe the necessity exists.
Nor are we to forget that the Constitution is a bill of rights as well as a frame of government; that among the most precious portions of the instrument are the first ten amendments; that it is doubtful whether the people of the United States could have been induced to adopt the Constitution, except upon the assurance of the adoption of these amendments, which are our Magna Carta, embodying in the organic law the securities of life, liberty, and estate, which, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, are the seed and the fruit of free government. Some portions of our history have led to the conclusion, that the existence of these amendments may, in the confusion of the times, have been overlooked.
In my humble judgment, Mr. Chairman, there has been, and is now, but one issue before the country; and that is, whether the Constitution of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land. That Constitution was formed by the people of the United States. It acts, not upon the States, nor, through the States, upon us as citizens of the several States, but directly upon us as citizens of the United States; claiming, on the one hand, our allegiance, and giving to us, on the other, its protection. It is not a compact between the States, or the peoples of the several States : it is itself a frame of government ordained and established by the people of the United States.