June 23, 1869
Twice since the organization of existing political parties the people of Ohio have trusted the law-making power of the State in the hands of the Democratic Party. They first tried the experiment twelve years ago, and such were the results that ten years elapsed before they ventured upon a repetition of it. Two years ago, in a time of reaction, which was general throughout the country, the Democratic Party, by a minority of the popular vote, having large advantages in the apportionment, obtained complete control of the legislature in both of its branches. They came into power, proclaiming that the past ought to be forgotten; that old issues and divisions should be laid aside; that new ideas and new measures required attention; and they were particularly emphatic and earnest in declaring that the enormous burdens of debts and taxation under which the people were struggling made retrenchment and economy the supreme duty of the hour.
These were their promises, and the manner in which they were kept is now before the people of their judgment. Disregarding the well-known and solemnly-expressed will of Ohio, they began the business of their first session by a passing fruitless resolutions to rescind the ratification of the 14th amendment to the constitution of the United States.
They placed on the statute book visible admixture bills, to deprive citizens of the right of suffrage—a constitutional right long enjoyed and perfectly well settled by repeated decisions of the highest court having jurisdiction of the question.
They repealed the law allowing, after the usual residence, the disabled veterans of the Union army to vote in the township in which the National Soldiers’ Home is situated; and enacted a law designed to deprive of the right of suffrage a large number of young men engaged in acquiring an education at “any school, seminary, academy, college, university, or other institution of learning.” To prevent citizens who were deprived of their constitutional rights by these acts from obtaining prompt relief in the Supreme Court, they passed a law prohibiting that court from taking up causes on its docket according to its own judgment of what was demanded by public justice, in any case “except where the person seeking relief had been convicted of murder in the first degree, or of a crime the punishment of which was confinement in the penitentiary.”
I believe it is the general judgment of the people of Ohio that the passage of these measures, unconstitutional as some of them are, and unjust as they all are, was mainly due to the fact that the classes of citizens disfranchised by them do not commonly vote with the Democratic Party. The Republican Party condemns all such legislation, and demands its repeal.
On the important subject of suffrage, General Grant, in his inaugural message, expresses the convictions of the Republican Party. He says: “The question of suffrage is one which is likely to agitate the public so long as a portion of the citizens of the Nation are excluded from its privileges in any State. It seems to me very desirable that this question should be settled now, and I entertain the hope and express the desire that it may be by the ratification of the fifteenth amendment to the constitution.”
During the canvass which resulted in the election of the late Democratic legislature the Republicans were charged with having used $800,000, raised for the relief of soldiers’ families, to pay the State debt, and this charge was insisted upon, notwithstanding a majority of the Democratic members had supported the measure. The idea was everywhere held out that if the Democratic Party were successful this money would be restored to the relief fund and expended for the benefit of the soldiers. The failure to redeem this pledge is aggravated by the fact that the legislature, by a strictly party vote in the Senate, refused to provide for the support of soldiers’ destitute orphans at homes to be established without expense to the State by the voluntary contributions of patriotic and charitable people.
But of all the pledges upon which the Democratic Party obtained power in the last legislature, the most important, and those in regard to which the just expectations of the people have been most signally disappointed, are their pledges in relation to financial affairs—to expenditure, to debt, and to taxation. Upon this subject the people are compelled to feel a very deep interest. The flush times of the war have been followed by a financial reaction, and for the last three or four years the country has been on the verge of a financial crisis. The burdens of taxation bear heavily upon labor and upon capital. The Democratic Party, profuse alike of accusations against their adversaries, and of promises of retrenchment and reform, were clothed with power to deal with the heaviest part of these burdens, viz: with the expenditures, debts, assessments, and taxes which are authorized by State legislation. The results of their two years of power are now before the people. They are contained in the 65th and 66th volumes of the Laws of Ohio. Let any Republican diligently study these volumes and he will fully comprehend the meaning of Job when he said, “Oh, that mine adversary had written a book.” No intelligent man can read carefully these volumes, and note the number and character of the laws increasing the expenses and liabilities of the State and authorizing additional debts and additional taxation for city and village, for county and township purposes, without having the conviction forced upon him that the gentlemen who enacted these laws hold to the opinion that the way to increase wealth is to increase taxation, and that public debts are public blessings.
When the late Democratic Legislature assembled they found the revenue raised yearly in Ohio by taxation to pay the interest on the State and local debts and for State and local expenditures was $20,253,615.34. This is at the rate of almost forty dollars for every vote cast in the State at the last election, and exceeds seven dollars for each inhabitant of the State. Of this large sum collected annually by direct taxation less than one-fifth or $3,981,099.79 was for State purposes, and more than four-fifths or $16,272,515.34 was for local purposes. The increase of taxation for State purpose during the last few years has been small, but many items of taxation for local purposes are increasing rapidly. The taxation, for example, in the thirty-three cities of the State has increased until, according to the report of the auditor of State, “in several the rates of levy exceed three per cent, and the average rate in all is but little short of three per cent.” In this condition of the financial affairs of the State, and in the embarrassed and depressed condition of the business of the country, the duty of the legislature was plain. They were to see that no unnecessary additional burdens were imposed upon the people—that all wholesome restraints and limitation upon the power of local authorities to incur debts and levy taxes should be preserved and enforced, and especially that no increase of liabilities should be authorized except in cases of pressing necessity.
Now consider the facts. These gentlemen professed to be scrupulously strict in their observance of the requirements of the constitution. Yet under provisions which contemplate one legislative session in two years they held two sessions in the same year, and three sessions in their term of two years. They were in session two hundred and sixty days—longer than was ever before known in Ohio, and at an expense of $250,624.10—more than double that of their Republican predecessors.
They created between thirty and forty new offices at a cost to the people for salaries, fees, and expenses of at least $75,000 per annum. They added to the State liabilities for various purposes about $1,500,000. In order to avoid an increase of taxes levied for State purposes they diminished the sum levied to pay the State debt, and increased the levy for other State purposes almost $600,000.
The acts of the last legislature in relation to local debts and local taxes are of the most extraordinary character. These acts relate to raising money for county purposes, for township purposes, for city and village purposes, and for special purposes. These taxes or debts are levied or incurred under the direction of county commissioners, township trustees, or of city or village councils, who derive their authority exclusively from State legislation. The State legislature has therefore the control of the whole matter. Now, the general statement which I wish to make, and which I believe is sustained by the facts, is, that the late Democratic legislature authorized greater local pecuniary burdens to be imposed upon the people of Ohio, without their consent, than were ever before authorized by any General Assembly, either in peace or war, since the organization of our State government.
Sixty or seventy different acts were passed authorizing debts to be contracted, amounting in the aggregate to more than $25,000,000. A large part of them bear eight per cent interest, and a very small part bear less than seven and three-tenths per cent interest. And they passed seventy or eighty acts by which additional taxes were authorized to the amount of over $10,000,000.
Now it is to be hoped, as to a considerable part of the local debts and local taxes authorized by the late Democratic legislature, that the people will not be burdened with them. It is to be hoped that county commissioners, city councils, and other local boards, will show greater moderation and economy in the exercise of their dangerous and oppressive powers under the laws than was exhibited in their enactment. But in any event, nothing is more certain than that the people of Ohio have great reason to apprehend that the evil consequences of these laws will be felt in their swollen tax bills for many years.
It is probable that many of the acts to which I have alluded, creating additional offices, incurring State liabilities, and authorizing local debts and taxes were required by sound policy. But a candid investigation will show that the larger part of these enormous burdens of expenditure, debt, and taxation could and ought to have been avoided.
The last legislature afforded examples of many of the worst evils to which legislative bodies are liable—long sessions, excessive legislation, unnecessary expenditures, and recklessness in authorizing local debts and local taxes. These evils “have increased, are increasing, and ought to be diminished.” Let there be reform as to all of them. Especially let the people of all parties insist that the parent evil—long legislative sessions—shall be reformed altogether. Let the bad precedent of long sessions, set by the last legislature, be condemned, and the practice of short sessions established. With the average rate of taxation in the cities and large towns of the State—nearly three per cent—legitimate business and industry cannot continue to thrive, if the rate of taxation continues to increase. With the rates of interest for public debts ranging from seven and three-tenths per cent to eight per cent, the reckless increase of such debts must stop, or will seriously affect the prosperity of the State. These are subjects which deserve, and which, I trust, will receive, the profound attention of the people in the pending canvass.
It is said that one of the ablest Democratic members of the last legislature declared at its close that “enough had been done to keep the Democratic Party out of power in Ohio for twenty years.” Let the Republican press and the Republican speakers see to it that the history of the acts of that body be spread fully before the people, and I entertain no doubt that the declaration will be substantially made good.
It is probable that the discussions of the present canvass will turn more upon State legislation and less upon National affairs than those of any year since 1861. Neither senators nor representatives in Congress are to be chosen. But it is an important State election, and will be regarded as having a bearing on National politics. The Republicans of Ohio heartily approve of the principles of General Grant’s inaugural message, and are gratified by the manner in which he is dealing with the leading questions of the first three months of his administration.
Under President Johnson, Secretary McCulloch hoarded millions of gold, to enable him to maintain a wretched rivalry with the gold gamblers of New York city. The Nation was defrauded of its just dues, and the National debt increased from November 1, 1867, to November 1, 1868, $35,625,102.82. General Grant began his financial policy by revoking his predecessor’s pardons of revenue robbers, and by cutting down expenses in all directions; and Secretary Boutwell disposes of surplus gold in the purchase of interest-bearing bonds to the amount of two million a week, and in his first quarter reduces the National debt more than twenty millions of dollars.
The two Democratic Johnsons, Andrew and Reverdy, furnished their ideas of a foreign policy in the Johnson-Clarendon treaty. They undertook to settle the American claims against England on account of the Alabama outrage by the award of a Commission, one-half of whose members were to be chosen by England and the other half by the United States; and, in case of a disagreement, and umpire was to be chose by lot. That is to say, a great National controversy, involving grave questions of international law, and claims of undoubted validity, amounting to millions of money, was to be decided by the toss of a copper! The administrations of General Grant crushed the disgraceful treaty, and proposes to deal with England on the principle laid down in General Grant’s inaugural. The United States will treat all other Nations “as equitable law requires individuals to deal with each other;” but, “if others depart from this rule in their dealings with us, we may be compelled to follow their precedent.”
On the great question of reconstruction, in what a masterly way and with what marked success has General Grant’s administration begun. Congress had fixed its day of adjournment, and all plans for reconstructing the three unrepresented States had been postponed until next December. At this junction General grant, on the 7th of April last, sent to Congress a special message recommending that before its adjournment it take the necessary steps for the restoration of the State of Virginia to its proper relations to the Union. As the ground of his recommendation he said: “I am led to make this recommendation from the confident hope and belief that the people of that State are now ready to co-operate with the National government in bringing it again into such relations to the Union as it ought as soon as possible to establish and maintain, and to give to all its people those equal rights under the law which were asserted in the Declaration of Independence, in the words of one of the most illustrious of its sons.”
The message of the president was referred, in the House of Representatives, to the Committee on Reconstruction. That committee the next day reported a bill for the reconstruction of Virginia, and also of Mississippi and Texas. The character of the bill sufficiently appears by the first two sections relating to Virginia:
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States, at such time as he may deem best for the public interest, may submit the constitution which was framed by the convention which met in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday, the 3rd day of December, 1867, to the registered voters of said State, for ratification or rejection; and may also submit to a separate vote such provision of said constitution as he may deem best.
“SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That at the same election the voters of said State may vote for and elect members of the General Assembly of said State and all the officers of said State provided for by the said State and all the officers of said State provided for by the said constitution, and for members of Congress; and the officer commanding the district of Virginia shall cause the lists of registered voters of said State to be revised and corrected prior to such election, and for that purpose may appoint such registrars as he may deem necessary. And said election shall be held and returns thereof made in the manner provided by the election ordinance adopted by the convention which framed said constitution.”
It will be seen that by this bill the people of Virginia were to proceed in the work of reconstruction at such time as the President might deem best, and that such reconstruction in all its parts was to be on the basis of equal political rights. The constitution to be submitted was framed by a convention, in the election of which colored citizens participated, and of which colored men were members. The “registered voters” who are to vote on its ratification or rejection, and also for members of the General Assembly, for State officers and for members of Congress, include the colored men of Virginia; and if the constitution is adopted, it secures to them equal political rights in that State. The remaining sections of the bill provide for the reconstruction of Mississippi and Texas on the same principles, and left the time and manner to the discretion of the president.
This bill was reported to the House of Representatives and unanimously agreed upon by a committee, of which four members were Democrats. The most distinguished Democratic representatives of the States of New York and Pennsylvania advocated its passage. Out of about seventy Democratic members of the House, only twenty-five voted against it, and the only Democratic members from Ohio who voted on the passage of the bill, voted for it.
It thus appears that upon the recommendation of General Grant even the Democratic Party of Ohio, by their representatives in Congress, voted for equal political rights in Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas! And today the great body of the people of those States, Democrats and Conservatives as well as Republicans, have yielded assent to that great principle. In view of these facts I submit that I am fully warranted in saying that General Grant has begun the work of reconstruction in a masterly way and with marked success.
Again thanking you for the honor you have done me, I repeat, in conclusion, what I said two years ago. The people represented in this convention mean that the State of Ohio in the great progress, “whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuits for all, and to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life,” shall tread no more steps backward. I shall enter upon my part of the labors of the canvass believing that the Union Republican party is battling for the right, and with undoubting confidence that the goodness of the cause will supply the weakness of its advocates, and command in the result that triumphant success which it deserves.