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House was distinguished as an orator, and as a lawyer of large acquirements and practical ability. He was afterward prominent in the Congress of the United States, and it is to be regretted that indifference to public honors deprived the people of his services for the greater part of his active life. David M. Key, had been a gallant Confederate soldier, and was afterwards one of the Chancellors of the State, United States Senator, and Post Master General. A. O. P. Nicholson, probably, was the most distinguished delegate, and is one of the finest figures in our history, a man of commanding intelligence, of pure character, and of the most attractive personality. George W. Jones, had been one of the active and prominent members of Congress from the State before the civil war. Others who were distinguished by exceptional abilities and by public service were, W. H. Williamson, George E. Seay, J. J. Turner, Henry R. Gibson, W. B. Staley, John W. Burton, A. Blizzard, George G. Dibrell, A. W. Campbell, James Fentress, Thomas M. Jones, John A. Gardner, P. G. Fulkerson, John M. Taylor, D. N. Kennedy, W. V. Deaderick, and S. J. Kirkpatrick.
While the Convention was called, ostensibly, to reform the Constitution, its members were fully aware that this was not the principal purpose of their assembling. The leaders at least, were wise enough to know, that even if the real business of the Convention had been to revise the Constitution, the true policy was
to do as little as possible. They knew that they were at the beginning of a new era, and that the near future must bring many changes which they could not then foresee. The sentiment of the dominant element was very accurately declared by the venerable Judge Nicholson, who said repeatedly to those who were inclined to be extreme “Let us be careful; let us do no more than is absolutely necessary. In ten years from now all this must be done again.”1
There were hot heads and theorists in the Convention, but the conservative majority adopted and steadily adhered to the policy declared by Nicholson. There were abundant reasons for caution. The Convention owed its existence to a stroke of political policy which was little less than audacious; the party whose supremacy in the State was to be destroyed, naturally, was opposed to it; the Federal government was exercising throughout the South the most extraordinary powers in reconstructing the recently rebellious States, and its agents kept vigilant watch on the proceedings. At one time it looked as if the Federal authorities would interfere, but, probably, there was no real danger. A resolution had been introduced by Governor Porter providing that nearly all public offices should be vacated at a specified time. The resolution was finally adopted, but pending its consideration, a member of the Convention received a letter from a representative of the State in Congress, saying that if the proposition should be adopted, the reconstruction of the State would inevitably follow, that no action of that kind was then contemplated, but that Congress would not consent to the wholesale ouster of Republican office holders. To this letter, Governor Porter dictated a reply to the effect that the author of the measure declared that no Congress, however radical, would interfere when it was known that three-fourths of the office holders affected had been elected by excluding from the polls the intelligence and the property of the State; that even if reconstruction should be attempted, he defied Congress to make matters worse than they had been since 1865, and that the proposition would be made a part of the Constitution.?
11 quote Judge Nicholson on the authority, and with the consent of his son, Major Hunter Nicholson. Judge Henry R. Gibson, a prominent member of the convention, confirms the statement and says that, at first it was expected that the Convention would not be in session more than ten days.
The adoption of the resolution failed to produce the threatened retaliation.
An examination of the work of the Convention will show how carefully it adhered, in essentials, to the policy of "how not to do it." Section 4 of the deciaration of rights was amended so as to provide that no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, and of the State, shall be required as a qualification for office. To section 5 of the declaration the following words were added: “The right of suffrage, as .hereinafter declared, shall never be denied to any person entitled thereto, except upon a conviction, by a jury, of some infamous crime, previously ascertained and declared by law, and judgment thereon by a court of competent jurisdiction." Section 6 was amended so as to prohibit any political or religious test as a qualification for jurors. These changes were intended to be preventive of the recurrence of recent conditions in the State, and the same purpose prompted an amendment of section 25 of the declaration of rights, to the effect that martial law is inconsistent with the principles of free government, and that no department of the State government is authorized to establish it. The right to bear arms was qualified by the declaration that the Legislature should have power, by law, to regulate it with a view to the prevention of crime.
2 Letter from Governor Porter to the writer.
The Constitution of 1834 prohibited the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus except when required, in case of rebellion or invasion, by the public safety, but now the General Assembly must declare that. the necessity exists. Section 18 of the declaration of rights was changed so as to prevent imprisonment for debt in civil cases.
The amendments of 1865 constitute two sections of the declaration of rights, and the Convention added another requiring the erection of safe and comfortable prisons and the humane treatment of prisoners. The section affirming the right of settlers south of the Holston and French Broad to the preemption and occupancy of their lands was omitted, but William Blount's declaration of the right to participate in the free navigation of the Mississippi was retained.
The amendments of article II of the Constitution, which deals with the Legislative department, were few, and with two exceptions, unimportant. Section 2 of 1834 provided that two-thirds of each house should constitute a quorum, and this was so amended as to declare that “not less than two-thirds of all the members to which each house shall be entitled,” shall constitute a quorum. A much more important, and a really meritorious amendment, was that of section 17 of this article providing, that no bill shall become a law which embraces more than one subject, that subject to be expressed in the title, and that all Acts which repeal, revive or amend former laws, shall recite in the caption or otherwise, the title or substance of the law repealed, revived or amended. It had been the custom up to this time to include more than one subject in an Act, and very often a number of incongruous matters were legislated upon in a single bill. Frequently, Acts had been passed extending to private or municipal corporations the same powers conferred upon other similar corporations by former legislation,
the powers thus conferred to be ascertained by reference to the former Acts. Of much less importance was the amendment of section 20 of this article, declaring that no law of a general nature shall take