1871 GUBERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN SPEECH
August 24, 1871
The change of principles which a majority of the late Democratic State Convention at Columbus decided to make, commonly called the new departure, lends to the pending political contest in Ohio its chief interest. Indeed, there is no other salient feature in the Democratic platform. Resolutions in the usual form were adopted on several other political topics; but the main discussion, and the absorbing interest of the convention, was on the question of accepting as a finality the series of Republican measures which is generally regarded as the natural and legitimate result of the overthrow of the rebellion, and which is embodied in the last three amendments to the constitution.
Certain influential Democratic leaders in Ohio had become satisfied by the repeated defeats of their party that no considerable number of Republicans would ever aid the Democratic party to obtain power until it fully and explicitly accepted in good faith, as a final settlement of the questions involved, the leading Republican measures resulting from the war. They were convinced that Republicans generally regarded these measures of such vital importance that, until they were irrevocably established, other and minor questions would not be allowed to divide that great body of patriotic people who rallied together in support of the government during its struggle for existence. The important principles which Republicans claim should be accepted as settled are:
1. That the National power is the Supreme power of the land,
and that the doctrine that the States are in any proper sense sovereign,
including as is does the right of nullification and secession, is no longer
to be maintained.
2. That all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, are citizens thereof, and entitled to equal rights, civil and political, without regard to race, color, or condition.
3. That the public debt resulting from the war is of binding obligation, and must be fully and honestly paid.
Mr. Vallandigham, with that boldness and energy for which he was distinguished, undertook the task of forcing his party to take the position required to make success possible in Ohio. In this work, he was encouraged, and probably aided, by the counsel and advice of that other eminent Democratic leader, Chief Justice Chase. The first authentic announcement of the new movement in Ohio was made by the Montgomery County Democratic Convention, held at Dayton, on the 18th day of May last. The speech and resolutions of Mr. Vallandigham in that body contained much sound Republicanism. He still clung to a general assertion of the State rights heresy, but accepted the last three constitutional amendments “as a settlement, in fact, of all the issues of the war,” and “pledged” the Democratic party to the faithful and absolute enforcement of the constitution as it now is, “so as to secure equal rights to all persons, without distinction of race, color, or condition.” On the subject of the National debt, and of currency, he was equally explicit. He declared “in favor of the payment of the public debt at the earliest practicable moment consistent with moderate taxation; that specie is the basis of all sound currency; and that true policy requires a speedy return to that basis as soon as practicable without distress to the debtor class of people.”
Surely, here was a long stride away from the Democracy of the last ten years, and toward wholesome Republican ideas. If a Democratic victory could be gained by adopting Republican principles, the framer of the Dayton platform was not lacking in political sagacity. Unfortunately for the success of the scheme, no Ohio Democrat of conspicuous position, except Mr. Chase, is known to have approved Mr. Vallandigham’s resolutions as the whole. The chief justice wrote to Mr. Vallandigham the well-known letter of May 20, in which he warmly congratulated him on the movement which was to return “the Democratic party to its ancient platform of progress and reform.”
This was perfectly consistent with the previous opinions and public conduct of Mr. Chase. He has supported the three amendments to the constitution, and notwithstanding the censure of his Democratic associates, he had been signally active and influential in procuring the ratification by Ohio of the fifteenth amendment. In addition to this, he was probably the only prominent Western Democrat who was for the payment of the public debt in coin, and in favor of a speedy return to specie payments.
When the convention assembled, on the first of June, neither the talents and energy of Mr. Vallandigham nor the great name and authority of the chief justice were sufficient to carry through, in all its parts, the Dayton programme. The financial resolutions were stricken out and the oft-defeated greenback theory, slightly modified, was inserted in its place. Other important paragraphs of Mr. Vallandigham were also omitted, in which “secession, slavery, and inequality before the law, and political inequality” were described as “belonging to the dead past” and “buried out of sight.” This left as the new departure two resolutions, which were adopted only after strong opposition.
“1. Resolved, by the
Democracy of Ohio, That denouncing the extraordinary means by which they
were brought about, we recognize as accomplished facts the three several
amendments to the constitution,
recently adopted, and regard the same as no longer political issues before the country.
“2. . . . The Democratic party pledges itself to the full,
faithful, and absolute enforcement of the constitution as it now is, so as to
secure equal rights to all persons under it, without distinction of race,
The Democratic managers claim that by this movement they have taken such a position that, at least equally with the Republicans, they are entitled to the confidence and support of the early and earnest friends of the principles of the three recent constitutional amendments. They claim at the same time, in the same breath, that they are entitled also to the confidence of the Democratic people by whom they have hitherto taught that the amendments were ratified by force and fraud; that they are revolutionary and void, and that they are a dangerous departure from the principles of the fathers of the republic, and destructive of all good government.
Now, the important question presented is, whether it is safe and wise to trust these amendments for interpretation, construction, and execution to the party which, from first to last, has fiercely opposed them. The safe rule is, if you want a law fairly and faithfully administered, intrust power only to its friends. It will rarely have a fair trial at the hands of its enemies. These amendments are no exception to this rule.
What the country most needs, and what good citizens most desire in regard to these great measures is peace—repose. They wish to be able to rest confidently in the belief that they are to be enforced and obeyed. They do not want them overthrown by revolutionary violence or defeated by fraud. They do not wish them repealed by constitutional amendments, abrogated by judicial construction, nullified by unfriendly legislation, State or National, or left a dead letter by non-action on the part of law-makers or executive officers. Has the time come when the country can afford to trust the Democratic party on these questions? Consider the facts.
The new departure is by no means generally accepted by the Democratic party, and where accepted the conversion is sudden and recent, and against the protest of a large element of sincere and inflexible Democrats.
The only State touching the borders of Ohio which as been reliably Democratic for the last five years is Kentucky. She sends to Congress an undivided Democratic delegation of two senators and nine representatives. At the late election, notwithstanding the heroic efforts of her Republicans under the splendid leadership of General Harlan, the Democratic organs are able to rejoice that they still hold the State by from thirty to forty thousand majority. Where did the Democrats of Kentucky, in their canvass, stand on the new departure? They marched in the old Democratic path. They turned no back somersault to catch Republican votes. On the very day that the Ohio Democracy were wrangling in convention over the bitter dose, Governor Leslie, addressing the Democracy of Lewis county, said: “As to the new amendments, I am out and out opposed to them. I care not who in Indiana, Ohio, or elsewhere may be for them. Those amendments were engrafted upon the constitution of the country, and proclaimed to the country as part and parcel of the constitution by force and by fraud, and not in the legitimate way laid down in the constitution. Ten States of this Union were tied hand and foot, and bayonets were presented to their breasts to make them consent against their will to the passage of these amendments. The procuring of these amendments was a fraud upon this people, and upon the people of the whole United States, and having been thus obtained, I hold that they ought to be repealed. There may be some Democrats who are not for their repeal, but the great body of our party is for it.”
The Democratic candidate for lieutenant-governor, Mr. Carlisle, was equally decided. Said he: “In the first place, I do not think that the resolution passed by the Ohio Democracy, declaring that these constitutional amendments are no longer political issues before the country, will have the effect which they appear to have supposed it would.
“Instead of withdrawing them as subjects of political discussion, it will give them far more prominence than they ever had heretofore, and they will be confronted with them throughout the entire canvass. The only way in which any question can be withdrawn from the arena of political discussion is for both parties to ignore it altogether.
“This can not be done as to these amendments, because they present real living issues, in which the people feel a very deep interest. They are not dead issues, and politicians can not kill them by resolutions. The Ohio Democrats seem to recognize this to some extent at least, for they have simply attempted to turn the discussion away from the validity and merits of the amendments themselves to the question of their construction. In this I think they have made a grievous mistake.”
In Indiana, the last authoritative Democratic utterance on this subject, was the passage, in January last, by the Senate of that State, of the following resolution, offered by Mr. Hughes, every Democrat supporting it:
“Resolved, That Congress has no lawful power derived from the constitution of the United States, nor from any other source whatever, to require any State of the Union to ratify an amendment proposed to the constitution of the United States as a condition precedent to representation in Congress; that all such acts of ratification are null and void, and the votes so obtained ought not to be counted to affect the rights of the people and the States of the whole Union, and that the State of Indiana protests and solemnly declares that the so-called fifteenth amendment is not this day, nor never has been in law, a part of the constitution of the United States.”
It is not necessary to go to neighboring States for Democratic authorities, to show how far the new departure is from modern Democracy.
When this question was last debated before the people of Ohio, the Democratic position on the principle of the fifteenth amendment, and on its constitutional validity, if declared adopted, was thus stated:
Speaking of the principle of the amendment, Judge Thurman said: “I tell you it is only the entering wedge that will destroy all intelligent suffrage in this
country, and turn our country from an intelligent white man’s government into one of the most corrupt mongrel governments in the world.”
On its validity, if declared adopted, General Ward said: “Fellow-citizens of Ohio, I boldly assert that the States of this Union have always had, both before and since the adoption of the constitution of the United States, entire sovereignty over the whole subject of suffrage in all its relations and bearings. Ohio has that sovereignty now, and it can not be taken from her without her consent, even by all the other States combined, except by revolutionary usurpation. The right to regulate suffrage as to the organization of its own government, and the election of officers under it, is an inalienable attribute of sovereignty, which the State could not surrender without surrendering its sovereign existence as a State. To take from Ohio the power of determining who shall exercise the right of suffrage is not an amendment of the constitution, but a revolutionary usurpation by the other States, in no wise constitutionally binding upon her sovereignty as a State.”
These opinions are still largely prevalent in the Democratic party. When a new departure was announced at Dayton, the leading organ of the party in this State said:
“There are matters in the Montgomery county resolutions which, it is very safe to say, will not receive the approval of the State convention, and which
should not receive its indorsement. They have faults of omission and commission. They evince a desire to sail with the wind, and as near the water as
possible without getting wet. The Democracy everywhere believe that the constitution was altered by fraud and force, and do not intent to be
mealy-mouthed in their expression of the outrage, whatever they may agree upon as to how the amendments should be treated in the future, for the sake
of saving, if possible, what is left of constitutional liberty.”
After the scheme was adopted in convention, the common sentiment was well expressed by the editor who said that “the platform was made for present use, and is marked with the taint of insincerity.”
The speeches of Colonel McCook and other Democratic gentlemen exhibit, when carefully read, clearly enough the character of the new departure.
In accepting his nomination, Colonel McCook said: “Let me speak now upon the fifteenth amendment, which confers the right of suffrage upon the blacks. It was no legitimate consequence of the war; it was no legitimate consequence of secession; but it was passed in the exigency of a political party, that they might have control as much in Ohio as in those States in the South. I opposed it, as I did the fourteenth, from the beginning, and I have no regrets over that opposition. But now a word more upon it. If it contained nothing but this provision for suffrage there would be but little objection in it; but it contains a provision intended to confer power upon Congress which is dangerous to the liberties of the country, and the dangers can only be avoided by having Democratic Congresses in the future, who will trust no power to the executive which bears the purse and sword to interfere with our elections.”
When interrogated on this subject at Chardon, he said: “When he received the nomination he had said that no black man who had received the right to vote under the 15th amendment ever could have it taken away. Repealing the 15th amendment would not take it away; that amendment is no more sacred, but just as sacred as any other part of the constitution; but repealing it could not take away a right.” He was asked as to the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments: “Do you regard them as in the same sense and to the same extent parts of the constitution as other portions?” He answered: “Yes, certainly. Can not men see the difference between opposing the adoption of a measure and yielding when it has been adopted, and opposition has become useless?” He was asked: “Are these amendments never again to become political questions?” “I have no authority or power to answer such a question. How can I answer as to all the future? How can I tell what the Democracy of New York or any other State may do? But how can they become political questions, now that they are acquiesced in by almost the entire people of the country?”
Mr. Hubbard, the chairman of Colonel McCook’s first meeting, said: “The Democrats did not dispute that this amendment, which was adopted by constitutional forms, was valid; but, while accepting it, call it a ‘new departure.’ If you please, we don’t surrender the right to make such returns to the old constitution as we may deem expedient. It is a future questions that we are not bound to discuss.” The gentleman who has the second place on the Democratic ticket, Mr. Huut, says: “There is no reasoning, and certainly no circumstance, which can give the 13th amendment more binding force than either of the other two amendments. If the 13th amendment abolished slavery, then the title to vote under the 15th amendment is as perfect as the title to liberty. The fact that they have been declared a part of the constitution does not preclude any legitimate discussion as to their expediency. Proper action will never be barred, for the statute of limitation will run with the constitution itself. Experience may teach the necessity of a change in any provision of the organic law, and any legislation to be permanent must conform to the living sentiment of the people.”
These paragraphs furnish no adequate reply to the questions which an intelligent and earnest Republican, who believes in the wisdom and value of the amendments, would put to these distinguished gentlemen, when they ask him for his vote. He would ask: “If the Democratic party shall obtain the controlling power in the general government, in its several departments, executive, legislative, and judicial, and in the State governments, what would it do? Would it faithfully execute these amendments, or would it not rather use its power to get rid of them—either by constitutional amendment, by judicial decision, by unfriendly legislation, or by a failure or refusal to legislate?” Before the “new departure” can gain Republican votes, its friends must answer satisfactorily these questions. The speeches I have quoted fail to furnish such answers. Colonel McCook objects to the 15th amendment, because “it contains a provision intended to confer power upon Congress which is dangerous to the liberties of the country.” Now, what is this dangerous provision? It reads: “Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Each of the three recent amendments contains a similar provision. Without this provision, they would be inoperative in more than half of the late rebel States. The complaints made of these provisions warn us that in Democratic hands the legislation required to give force and effect to these provisions would be denied.
But the most significant part of these speeches are the passages which refer to the repeal of the amendments. Mr. Hubbard said: “We don’t surrender the right to make such returns to the old constitution as we may deem expedient. It is a future question that we are not bound to discuss.” Colonel McCook says: “How can I answer for all the future? How can I tell what the Democracy of New York or any other State may do?” Mr. Hunt says: “The fact that they have been declared a part of the constitution does not preclude any legitimate discussion as to their expediency. Proper action will never be barred.” The meaning of all this is that the Democratic party will acquiesce in the amendments while it is out of power. Whether or not it will try to repeal them when it gets power is a question of the future which they are not bound to discuss. Or as another distinguished gentleman has it, this question is “beyond the range of profitable discussion.” In reply to these gentlemen, the well-informed Republican citizen when asked to vote for the new departure, is very likely to adopt their own phraseology, and to say, Whether I shall vote your ticket or not is a question of the future which it is not now proper to discuss—“it is beyond the range of profitable discussion;” and if he has the Democratic veneration for Tammany hall, he will say with Colonel McCook, “How can I tell what the Democracy of New York may do?”
Notwithstanding the decision of the late convention, it is probably that the real sentiment of the Democracy of Ohio is truly stated by the Butler county Democrat: “Our position then, is, that while we regard the so-called amendments as gross usurpation and base frauds—not a part of the Federal constitution de facto nor de jure—and, therefore, acts which are void, we will abide by them until a majority of the people of the States united shall, at the polls, put men in power who shall hold them to be null and of no effect. We adhere strictly, on this point, to the second resolution of Hon. L. D. Campbell, adopted at the Democratic convention held in this county last May; and to refresh the minds of our readers we reproduce it here: “2. That now, as heretofore, we are opposed to all lawlessness and disorder, and for maintaining the supremacy of the constitution and laws as the only certain means of public safety, and will abide by all their provisions until the same shall be amended, abrogated, or repealed by the lawfully constituted authorities.”
The new departure has certainly very little claim to the support of Republic citizens. What are its claims on honest Democrats?
Colonel McCook, to make the new departure palatable to his Democratic supporters, tells them that a repeal of the fifteenth amendment would fail of its object. That the right to vote, once exercised by the black man, can not be taken away. Is this sound either in law or logic? By the fifteenth amendment no State can deny the right to vote to any citizen on account of race or color. Suppose that amendment was repealed; what would prevent Kentucky from denying suffrage to colored citizens? Plainly nothing. And in case of such repeal it is probably that in less than ninety days thereafter every Democratic State would deny suffrage to colored citizens, and the great body of the Democratic voters would heartily applaud that result. The truth is, no sound argument can be made, showing or tending to show that the new departure is consistent with the Democratic record. Hitherto Democracy has taught that, as a question of law, the amendments were made by force and fraud, and are therefore void; that, as a question of principles, this is a white man’s government, and that to confer suffrage to the colored races—on the African or Chinaman—would change the nature of the government and speedily destroy it. Now the new departure demands that Democrats shall accept the amendments as valid and shall take pledge “to secure equal rights to all persons, without distinction of race, color, or condition.” Sincere Democrats will find it very difficult to take that pledge, unless they are now convinced that their whole political life has been a great mistake.
When an individual changes his political principles—turns his coat merely to catch votes—he is generally thought to be unworthy of support. I entertain no doubt that the people of Ohio, at the approaching election, will, upon that principle, by a large majority, condemn the Democratic party for its bold attempt to catch Republican votes by the new departure.