previous next

[6] out of place to see what course they now undertook to pursue under the pretext of preserving the Constitution of the United States. It had been conceded in all time that the Congress of the United States had no power to legislate on slavery in the states, and that this was a subject for state legislation. It was one of the powers not granted in the Constitution, but ‘reserved to the States respectively.’1 All the powers of the federal government were delegated to it by the states, and all which were reserved were withheld from the federal government, as well in time of war as in peace. The conditions of peace or war made no change in the powers granted in the Constitution. The attempt by Congress to exercise a power of confiscation, one not granted to it, was therefore a mere usurpation. The argument of forfeiture for treason does not reach the case, because there could be no forfeiture until after conviction, and the Constitution says, ‘No attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.’2 The confiscation act of 1861 undertook to convict and sentence without a trial, and entirely to deprive the owner of slaves of his property by giving final freedom to the slaves. Still further to show how regardless the United States government was of the limitations imposed upon it by the compact of Union, the reader is referred to the fifth article of the first amendment, being one of those cases in which the people of the several states, in an abundance of caution, threw additional protection around rights which the framers of the Constitution thought already sufficiently guarded. The last two clauses of the article read thus: No person ‘shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.’

Here was a political indictment and conviction by the Congress and President, with total forfeitures inflicted in palpable violation of each and of all the cited clauses of the Constitution.

One can scarcely anticipate such effrontery as would argue that ‘due process of law’ meant an act of Congress, that judicial power could thus be conferred upon the President, and private property be confiscated for party success, without violating the Constitution which the actors had sworn to support.

The unconstitutionality of the measure was so palpable that when the bill was under consideration Thaddeus Stevens, a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, said: ‘I thought the time had come when the ’

1 Constitution of the United States, Article X.

2 Ibid., Article III, section 3.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)

Visualize the most frequently mentioned Pleiades ancient places in this text.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Thaddeus Stevens (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: