OTD in 1869: A Minority Report Is Presented, and Debate on the Constitution Begins

On January 27, 1869, the Reconstruction Convention approved the printing of the report prepared by the committee assigned to revise the engrossed constitution, and the delegates then cleared the floor of visitors began to discuss those provisions that had not been revised by the committee.

But before that process began, the Convention received a report from a 4-member minority of the committee. The minority report is interesting reading. It provides some contemporary perspective on the surrounding circumstances of Reconstruction. It also comments on issues that still persist today, such as the 14th Amendment’s effect on citizenship standards (per this report, “every person born within our national limits”), and school finance. On the latter subject, the minority emphasized the importance of the matter: “It is true that if we would perpetuate the principles of a free constitution, the people must be educated, so that they may learn virtue, administer justice and practice morality. [¶] A people thus educated will each be a sentinel to guard the temple of liberty. They will watch with jealous care every approach to undermine the principles of our free constitution.”

The minority report:

Austin, Texas, January 26, 1869.

Hon. E. J. Davis,
President of the Reconstruction Convention:

SIR: The special committee of eleven, to whom was referred the labor of revising and correcting the constitution as far as engrossed, and to present other articles and sections not engrossed, have devoted much time to the labor assigned them. Considering the amount and importance of labor to be performed, and the short time which has elapsed since the special committee was raised, your committee, it may well be presumed, are not prepared to present to the Convention a constitution as perfect in all its parts as they desired.

It is well known to the country that more than four months have been consumed in the attempt to frame a constitution for the State. Early in June of last year various committees were raised, charged with the duty of framing a constitution suited to the different departments of State government. The undersigned, a minority of committee, who presents this minority report, knows well that the standing committees of this body required, on an average, about six weeks, to consider and report the several parts of a constitution.

This question, above all others, has engrossed the attention of the best talent in the country, and yet it has not been solved to the satisfaction of the country.

The committee have carefully examined the engrossed constitution, and have made some slight verbal changes, not affecting the substance. The majority report, it is believed, will show the changes in language suggested and recommended. The undersigned would recommend the adoption of the suggestions made by the majority of the committee as to the verbal alterations aforesaid.

The undersigned would also recommend that special authority be conferred on district judges to grant writs of habeas corpus, as recommended in the majority report.

The minority of the committee agree also with the majority in recommending that the district attorneys shall be appointed by the Supreme Court and commissioned by the Governor.

Two plans have been presented for establishing a system of common schools. The system best adapted to attain ends so desirable would be to provide a fund, and for details, leave its execution to the Legislature. The minority of the committee herewith present what they believe to be a sufficient basis for the establishment of common schools in every county and precinct in the State.

The development of the future will open up the way to guide the legislator in the faithful execution of the general plan here presented.

There was a time in the history of this State when we could boast of having provided a munificent fund to enlighten and enlarge the mind of the youth of our once growing and prosperous State. But now we can only look on with regret at the ruin which has been wrought by the untoward results of war and hasty and ill advised legislation. The school fund has been squandered, and the youth of twelve years amidst the past eight years of distress have reached the years of discretion with but little cultivation of mind.

When we contemplate our present condition, with an empty treasury and impoverished people unable to bear the burthens of heavy taxation, we almost despair of being able to provide for the education of the rising generation. All we can do is to lay the foundation as broad as our limited means will permit. It is true that if we would perpetuate the principles of a free constitution, the people must be educated, so that they may learn virtue, administer justice and practice morality.

A people thus educated will each be a sentinel to guard the temple of liberty. They will watch with jealous care every approach to undermine the principles of our free constitution.

The results of war have forced on us political questions the most difficult to solve. He who says that he finds no impediments in his pathway will not be instructed by this minority report. He is presumptuous, and has reached the climax of folly. At the close of actual hostilities between the North and South we found ourselves in the position of alien enemies, our substance gone, and our government overturned.

There was not a man in our midst to wield the sword of justice, guided by law, until the conqueror extended to us a helping hand. The late rulers who controlled when dark cloud overshadowed our country, at the approach of a victorious army, fled and took refuge in foreign lands.

Soon afterwards executive clemency came, and a proclamation of amnesty and pardon greeted us as a messenger of peace. The thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States was the great seal of the nation consecrating the late slave to freedom. But the sagacious statesmen saw the necessity of another amendment, which defines who are citizens of the republic. This includes every person born within our national limits.

It is apparent, from these recitations from the history of the times, the object of the Government was to win back, and not to oppress, a people who had disputed every inch of ground on a hundred battlefields with the mighty armies of the Republic.

It was for the conqueror to propose terms of peace and restoration to the full enjoyment of liberty, and it was for us to accept.

By a careful examination of the fourteenth amendment, it will be found that the question of suffrage is left with the States, at least so far as voting for State officers is concerned.

By the very terms of this amendment a certain class of persons who are declared to be citizens, are denied the right to hold office, State or Federal. This was not intended as a punishment upon this class of our citizens, but as a security to good order and peace in the country. The wisdom of the framers of the constitution of 1789 foresaw the necessity of requiring of judges and State legislators an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. This is an oath of allegiance and its obligations are to reach beyond the term of office. Whatever may have been the construction we placed on this oath, it is now understood that its obligation is perpetual. It was not regarded as safe to entrust the powers of State in the hands of those who had broken their faith. But it was not intended that the bar should be perpetual, but the promise of complete restoration was held out in the hope that the errors of the past would all be blotted out in the performance of good works. Thousands have been relieved of all political disability, and none have the crime of rebellion resting upon them.

Whatever else may be said of Andrew Johnson, in his proclamations of amnesty he was the true representative of magnanimous policy. We know there is a few who would willingly humiliate and degrade those of their own kindred and blood who dared to differ with them in their notions and contracted theories of government. But the mass of the people partake largely of the spirit of the nation. No threatenings are breathed to terrify a people already distressed by the devastating hand of war. Adopting a liberal and gracious policy, men of enlarged views offer the olive branch of peace. He is a poor political philosopher who has not seen that our government can not afford to change its Republican theory and adopt one founded on proscription, entailing humiliation upon the great bulk of the white inhabitants of the State.

No stable Republican government can long maintain its self respect if it should pursue a policy at war with the very theory upon which free government rests. The most superficial observer, upon a candid and fair examination of the policy of Congress to rehabilitate our State governments, has failed to discover the enlightened policy inaugurated.

The object of the nation is to the more firmly establish its representative theory. Those who are taxed and bear the burdens of government ought to be heard and represented in every department of State. The policy referred to, the action of the government, the letters and speeches of the wisest statesmen, are at war with the doctrine of proscription. It is not founded in justice or mercy. Instead of being the harbinger of peace, it comes freighted with poison more deadly than the Upas tree. It sows the seeds of discord, producing the fruits of bloodshed and all the ills to which humanity is heir.

The history of all the rebellions, of all the most noted revolutions, beginning with that of Oliver Cromwell down to the last one, and the greatest one in our country, shows that no such proscription as many propose was ever adopted.

A liberal policy toward the people will fill the Republican ranks with as good and pure men as any of which it can now boast. But a policy especially designed to perpetuate power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many, ought to meet an early grave, and so deep that the hand of resurrection will never reach it.

The minority are opposed to depriving the freedmen of any right, civil or political, to which he is entitled, and are equally opposed to depriving the white population of their equality before the law. Equal political rights to the adult citizen, of whatever nation, race or color, is the spirit of the government, and will lay a sure foundation for peace, and as a consequence for general prosperity. The minority herewith present an ordinance upon the subject of the elective franchise, which they believe ought to commend itself to every patriot in the land. Also the oath of office, which affords every safeguard contemplated by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; also an ordinance upon the subject of the declarations passed by this Convention, and other declarations as substitutes; and, in conclusion, say they do not endorse the majority report further than herein stated, or as set forth in the majority report.

Having but a few hours within which to consider this report, the minority can only present their views in this broken form.

Respectfully submitted,

B. W. GRAY,
A. M. BRYANT, of Grayson,
A. BUFFINGTON,
THOMAS KEALY, Denton.

The Upas Tree

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