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Full text of "Response of Hon. George Bliss, representative of the fourteenth congressional district of Ohio"

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To the Re-publican Senators and Representatives 

of the General Assembly of Ohio : 

Gentlemen : I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a 
communication from you, through the mediation of our Governor, 
in the form of a joint resolution, recently passed by your respective 
bodies, in which, after the recital of certain propositions, you resolve : 

" That our Senators and Representatives in Congress be requested to us? their influence 
and vote for the proposition now pending in Congress to amend the Constitution of the 
United States, so that 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, and giving to Congress power 
to enforce such prohibition by appropriate legislation." 

The grammatical solution of the last member of the sentence, 
" and giving power to Congress," &c, if it be capable of such solution, 
is entirely beyond my power of perception, and therefore any illus- 
tration which may have been intended by it is unavailable to me. If 
my moderate knowledge of our English could enable me to interpret 
the words, I would endeavor to give a just appreciation to the sense 
of the Legislature of my State. I can conceive of no " power" which 
you in your representative body, or we in ours, can give to Congress 
or any other agency to change the Constitution of the United States 
by any other method than the one provided, by the terms of that 

It is, perhaps, a good custom of the Legislatures of our States, 
when they justly assume to reflect the popular desire, to instruct 
their Senators and request their Representatives in Congress to sup- 
port such legislative measures as the people, who are, at least in 
theory, the fountain of political power, demand; but it is only that 
truly reflected popular sense which gives authority to the instruction 


or request. Neither the sober sense of the people of Ohio, nor of that 
portion of them whom I represent, has ever been declared in favor 
of the proposition which you ask us to support. 

I cannot accede to your request to use any influence if I have it, 
or "to vote for the proposition now pending in Congress to amend 
?he Const tution of the United States." Many unanswerable reasons 
d ssuade me from it. I was elected to the present Congress princ - 
pal fo the reason that a majority of the citizens of t - ^meenth 
district believed me to be unalterably attached and faithfu to the 
Constitution and the Union of States which was based upon it, The 
pa h to my "eat was through a pledge to that primary obWjonm 
a still more solemn form, an oath to support, maintain, and defend 
tha t Constitution. Being solicited to do what I believe would be a 
violation of that oath, I must rely upon my own ^^^ 
science, and not upon a majority ot the Legislature fj*?™*^ 
interpretthe obligation. It is ot increased in, pounce nou 'by"™ 
of the oeculiar exigencies of the times. Your official position piac s 
; o u unShe sanfe high obligation We can none ot as escape the 
criminality of violating our trust, it by direct force, or by the assurap 
t io n of legislative powers which are expressly and purposely with- 
eld f om°us, we attempt to overthrow or change its provisions. As 
he supreme law of the* realm, the Constitution, in *^,»™f 
Provides the only method by which it can be lawfully changed. 
Toll attention is'invited to tfie words of that piM^ 
which seems to have been forgotten by many who are bound to its 

support : 

i< Th„ Confess whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall pro- 

and that no State, without its consent, shall be dcpined ol its equal 

To c through the form of framing and adopting the fwfcoriH 
amendment without regard to the foregoing ^^^"^^^S 
duce as little legal effect upon proprietary rights in the wcedg 
States as would the resolution of a political convention m Ashtabula 
county Therefore, I request you, if you can, to inform your rep re- 
wS^rfW'^K^'wfifre^ttjr shall be called upon in concur 

nee wSi or in rejection of your judgment to give thtarVote M **f 
power or authority, under the existing state of facts re at g .to u 
political condition, and under the provisions ot the fifth article, tW 
Constitution can be amended as proposed. The question * nc rt how 
it may be violated or spurned— the secessionists have sufficiently 

8h We n all know that eleven States are not represented in the present 
Congress, and are not in a condition to give their consent or d, sent 
to the proposition. The adhering States are less than three-fourths 

v of thirty-four ; therefore, until the Union shall be restored or enough 

; of the recusant States shall return to make three-fourths of the 

* whole number, the Constitution cannot be amended by the assent ot 

'^legislatures or conventions of the people of the requisite number ot 

5t What say you, then, is the process by which you demand that before 
V$a restoration of the Union, or of States sufficient to constitute three- 
fourths of the whole confederation, the Constitution shall be amended I 
Do you say time the States whose people, in part, are in rebellion 
against the General Government, in legal theory and in fact are out 
of the Union, as they claim to be ? Do you claimthat the rebellious 
States are foreign powers and their inhabitants foreign people, and 
KM^K Constitution and laws of the United States, and 
that therefore the Constitution can be amended without their concur- 
rence, and afterwards enforced upon them in its new form? Lvery 
one of you has committed himself to a contrary doctrine a thousand 
times. All our proceedings and declarations since the commence- 
ment of the rebellion have asserted the legal integrity of the Lnion. 
We have waged war upon the Southern people, and continue to send 
ao-ainst thenar armies, by the sword, the bayonet, and the cannon, 
to enforce upon them subjugation and obedience to the Constitution 
and laws-to their and our Constitution and laws That the people 
of the seceded States are regarded as citizens of the Government of 
the United States is proved conclusively by the fact that undei an 
act of Congress passed since the secession, the federal courts are 
confiscate! the estates of rebels for acts of treason against their 
Government. You know that treason necessarily implies citizenship, 
and that it cannot be committed by an alien enemy. To assume 
such doctrine is to make inapplicable to the character of the South- 
ern people the names insurgent and rebel. . It is in efiect to abandon 
or deny the essential claim of every executive declaration, proclama- 
tion, and manifesto, and all the recognitions of the administration 
party from the first act of secession down to the present time. It is 
to acknowledge the power of secession, and to declare the existing 
war, on our part, to be one of aggression. All parties m the present 
federal States have agreed that ordinances of secession are null 
and void, and that the sovereignty of the Constitution ™£^W»J 
fixed upon all the people of the realm. To enforce this, universal 
idea of 'the subsisting unity in law of all the States, the Union loving 
people, without respect to party, have responded to all the > cal b o 
the military administration, and allowed their blood to be poured 
out on many battle-fields, and a public debt which for many years 
with its crushing weight, must task the ability of Ration, to be 
fixed upon them and their posterity. "Crush out the rebelho^ 
restore the Union," were the battle-cries on every he.d. Has a great 
.^dominating party, holding, for the present, such tremendous i,s nes 
in its hands, SiS have you, gentlemen, as tne representatives of that 
oartv, determined to change your fronton this vital question It so 
oaeaimot reasonably expect your conservative representatives in 
Congress to follow your example. Is the war hereafter to have no 

object but conquest and extermination ? A "second sober thought " 
is often needful ; but now, a first sober and rational thought seems 
to be in danger of supersedence. We should still insist that the 
rebels return to their allegiance, and that the rebel States return to 
their proper position in the Union, ana not attempt to change, by any 
unauthorized or revolutionary process, the Government to "which we 
claim their^ subjugation, and thus give them an apology for resist- 
ance. While we carry on a bloody war professedly against aggres- 
sion, let us not show to the world that our purpose 'is aggressive! 

It is clear to a perceptive mind that the Union might be restored 
upon its original basis, and our once great and powerful, but now 
divided and distracted country reunited by a simple honest declara- 
tion of the Northern people, through the ballot box, in favor of a re- 
turn to a strictly constitutional administration of the Government. 
Let such declaration be made in the proper authoritative way, and 
the Statesand people will re-cohere by natural and habitual proclivity. 

But so long as that policy shall be refused, they will be kept in 
severance. Upon no narrow, selfish, or sectional plan, can the sym- 
bolic stars of the republic be re-constellated upon our flag. These con- 
siderations press with great force upon the minds of a large majority 
of your representatives in Congress, and they regret and wonder that 
you do not perceive and regard them in the same light. 

At the present time the indications are much stronger than they 
have heretofore been of an inclination on the part of the Confeder- 
ate people to abandon their project of a separate government, and to 
restore their respective States to the Union upon the principles of 
the original confederation. I hold that such desire on their part 
ought to be encouraged by us. But any one not politically blind 
can see that to strike down without their concurrence their present 
State rights would be certain to incite them to continued resistance 
and to foreclose all hope of restoration or peace. No more unpro- 
pitious time for such a blow against the national hope could possibly 
have been selected, nor could a more injurious blow be given. The 
chain of policy of which this is a link, demonstrates that" the Repub- 
lican party is utterly averse to a restoration of the Union. 

You have undertaken, in that peculiar part of your legislative com- 
position called preamble, to define and declare the facts and princi- 
plesupon which you require fourteen representatives from Ohio to 
sacrifice their opinions and convictions to yours. It seems proper, 
therefore, that the propositions so laid down by you should receive 
sufficient consideration to enable us to determine whether they are 
logical and true, or sophistical and false. Among those propositions 
are some which have always be'eb taken as axioms; but thev are 
mixed and confounded with others which are so manifestly false as 
to stand in clear repugnance to all our national history. In fact, I 
regard it as one of the most comprehensive tissues of falsehood ever 

You say, among other things, that slavery is "a disturber of the 
Union and domestic tranquillity, a hindrance to the common de- 
fence, a spoiler of the public liberties, has inaugurated civil war, and 

is the cause of our national calamities." That is a pompons declara- 
tion but subiect to the objection that there is no truth id it. Your 
Democrat c Sese, tatives in Congresshave marked welf the history 
^nThi identsand effects of the anti-slavery controversy, and -each 
!n h!mis a livino- competent witness, who well knows that 
°ZJy £ £e State' waTnot, & its inherent qualities, a disturberof 
t illnion nor of domestic tranquillity, nor a hindrance to the com- 
mmi defe n'ce nor a spoiler of the public liberties, nor did it inaugu- 
rT civil war nor is it the cause of our national calamities ; but that 
[fwas w ickedly seized upon as an instrument in the hands o fanat- 
cs and se fish politicians to secure the partisan object of a 1 dis- 
sente « to de mocratic principles, in the predominance of a pohti. al 
6MM ization which it was seen must ever be powerless until it could 
si!ce S fulTa"sail the vital principles of the Government and the 
commcts of the Union. In the steady pertinacity with which this 
b.lerhl Iment was used, continuous and unremitted opposition 
in all effec ve ways, to the original, reserved, and constitute guar- 
^tidSwb?^ Southern people, became the fixed policy of the 
SSy«^Hy; which finally predominated, and still holds sway 

^^^SKktne and of our calamities tc .inquire 

thereof" whose malign efficiency was foreseen and contemplated 
wUh dVead and apprehension *™^. M ^!2£F%. g£ 
of whom died uttering rat.onal tat ™n YArfhl- 
onnntrvmen against the r sectional policy. In view ot uiese con 
aide atioTs I deny, with the support of all our previous history and 
^cHence 8 : M the institution Vf slavery -j-^^*^ 
the States is the cause of our national calamities ; but avei that un 
lawful aggressions upon it have caused all the evils recited i. your 

re When wo contemplate the enormous evils which have befallen on, 
oountrv through misguided policy ill reference to a local institution 
ho ever w illing we may he to admit the abstraction that slavery is 
S3 wrong^the institution of which «££%£«£% 
time is to be regretted, yet, as m our country it is a matter ot local 
MM and S™te°coiicernment and forced upon no man, and entirely 
boVood the jurisdiction of the General Government we .cannot tat 
be ieve with the most perfect conviction that it would have beer , and 
would hereafter be much better to leave the subject „, the'ha»* et 
those to whom it lawfully belongs, than to J* peud upon *•*** 
ment the blood and the resources of the nation. I W"' 1 "' 10 *^ 
MM nolicv and I will add, generous policy, can restore Union, peace, 
liid prosp J eri"y as we haw the best of reasons to believe, why shaft 
Zy P . o "be ^„ D ted. If the attempt to compe a "^™; 
oipation can only succeed by th e continual , emp oym. eot ot « ■ e 
armies at the expense of much of the blood and all the resources 01 

on p ople as mmiy good and *»>^*™Z*Tl2£*Z 
efit can result to balance the expense? What evil 01 danger can 

you remove at such great expense? None, as all can see who rea- 
son well. Your assumptions and predicates upon them are about 
anToHl ^"f^/^^eto Bay that the of Eden was the 
m,Z^ ,1 t 7° f mUn ' anc V herefore «H fruit trees should be exter- 
In TohnP 7?; T Wa " 2 16 ca ™> of the raid and assassinations 

Z„ \ IT™ at Harper S PenT ' and therefore slavery must be ex- 
terminated to prevent murder. It would be better to come openly to 
the point, and say that a free Government like ours, with coequality 

n 1 ' /i ,Ze " ?? £ a " d P rmIe S es . and Paramount sovereignty of local 
matters ,n the States is too pure and feeble to survive the assaults of 

TT,^n ne i l fa ! ,at i?, ,Sn ? a " d .* eIiish bigotry, and, therefore, "Jet the 
Union slide. The knife is a useful and innocent instrument, but in 

wlZ ; ° a8SaSSln ? may be em P%ed to perpetrate much evil. 
We do not propose on that account, however, to rid the world of 

£uLi %T • • i U T g U tG Stab others y° u 1,ave mounded your- 
selves Slavery in the States would never have injured you had you 

S,! dl ' ea, T; d let [t aIo " e - W**t do the thinking men of the 
ton n a f \ aiKl ^ eat pr0pose t0 do with f ™ n > three to four mill- 
\h 1 il, P Ti a ", d homeiess ne ^ oes when, if as intended, they 
d 1 d L t> SL f Q J ! m ? nC T ated ? A, ' e the >' to be ^^ited or' com- 
thl v 1 ?■ £!. * e§ ? Are ° Ur Pe ° ple t0 S ive themselves up to 

eon W- m° \\ y 0t an att6mpt t0 e »^nchise them with political 

equalitj/ Will they attempt to carry out the abolition theory of 
ele or miseegenating the negro race to a social equality with 
oln , n ,T dWOmeQ If tl^reisany reasonable or practicable 
l\Z nZZ " a, ; j ^ e *w»S>nfction of this problem, it should be 
give, ,to the country. We are told by those who say that slavery 

wa ',?,? ! h ? W f' tiat When slave, T shall be abolished the 
war sha I be ended. In that event, of course, the hosts of our gal- 
ant soldiers who are now employed in our vast armies will return 
to | tncir places of residence and to their peaceful vocations of labor, 
lie masses ot the people of the free States are habituated to labori- 

ZVo m 7 ' a 'l 'M 110 ; h ° ped f ° r event of poaee ' *»" constitute a 
fo ce.uihc.entforall the agricultural and mechanical labor of the 

( ^,. 2 ,?• '* S T kl bl! take ' 1 0ut of their ba ^ a Py emancipated 
neg oea they would enjoy but a poor return for toils, wounds, and 
pc» is in the services of their country. As one opposed to institu- 
ting slavery over negroes, or any other human beings who are 
tree I should somewhat fear to trust the virtue of our miti-slavery 
pc pic with .so delicate a question, to be disposed of under such pe- 

th is l thoT m H t:mCeS - X / ear that ia the ,,ext generation, if not in 
a mJ .,!, ! 7" Way , < : t l'»'«»viaiii- for them would be adopted as 
a nieasuie o policy and humanity, There is no room for the negroes 
the South among us. There is no room, no support, no happi- 
oeesfo them anywhere within our borders except in the places 

i ,,'••' n° U ' , "' , '!' 1 ' v - T1,us ue Bee ' iM °» T 0WD probable condi- 
tion and ,„ the condition reserved for these houseless ami homeless 
and starving hosts which, in the grand emancipation hegira, will be 
tnrown upon our borders, one of the bitter consequences of the 
policy which you propose. 

I deprecate human slavery, and the higher the order and character 
of the man upon whom its shackles are imposed, the more I abhor 
it You have in your resolution, used to define it the familiar 
words of the celebrated prohibitory ordinance of 1787. Within the 
scope of that definition, any one is included whose personal liberty 
is wrested from him by tyrannous and unauthorized force. It denies 
the right of arbitrary imprisonment and all interference with human 
liberty' " except as a punishment for crime, of which the party shall 
have been duly convicted." This lawful immunity from personal 
restraint, except in subjection to the process of an offended law is 
peculiarly the privilege of a citizen of the United States, and is 
guaranteed to him by the clear provisions of the Constitution. Un- 
doubtedly, to assume control over the person and liberty of a citizen 
without charge of crime or process of law, and subject him to im- 
prisonment or other restraint of liberty, is to create a case within the 
limits of your definition of slavery. And yet how many misguided 
men in the midst of their professions of intense love and regard tor 
the liberty of the negro, have approved and rejoiced in such depri- 
vation of the liberty of their white fellow-citizens, for no other ot- 
fence than an honest political opinion in conflict with the po icy of a 
temporarily predominating party. Negro slavery is local in the 
States, and regulated by law; but the abridgement ot the liberty ot 
white citizens is limited to no place. When all these matters shall 
have been dispassionately and justly considered, it will be seen who 
has the highest regard for human liberty. . 

In closing these remarks, the argumentative substance ot which 1 
have already expressed in the House, I venture to predict that the 
proposition pending in the House of Representatives cannot be passed 
according to the requisition of the Constitution, because, in order to 
its passage, two-thirds of all the members who make up that body 
are requfred to vote in the affirmative. The language of the Consti- 
tution is clear upon this point. " Congress, whenever two-tlards oj 
both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to 
this Constitution," &c. Not two-thirds of a_ mere quorum of the 
House, competent to transact ordinary legislation, but less than two- 
thirds of the House, can adopt this special provision and make it 
law. And should the contrary be assumed, and the passage ot the 
resolution upon a less vote declared, in the absence ot members on 
either side of the question, the country will know that the action is 

null and void. 

Very respectfully, ^ ^^ 

Washington, Jan. 28, 1865. 

NOTE.-Since the above remarks were written, the proposition has been put to vote in 
the House and owing to the absence, from sickness and other causes, of several membeis 
who if "re"nt woufd have voted against it, has been declared to be earned by a vo of 
one hundred and nine'een in the affirmative, to nfty-s.x ,n the ™S a «:*-°™j£™£™l 
and eighty-three members composed the House, two-thn-ds ot whom are one hundr.d and 
twenty-six. So two-thirds of the House did not concur in Us passage. 



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