Page images
PDF
EPUB

they had been "fully warmed by their new occu

pants. "30

With a naturally increasing intensity, as it progressed, the protest declared the vacation of the offices of Justices, Court Clerks, and Registers, to be an act of littleness, and of persecution, and affirmed that such action would be considered by the Republicans as a direct partisan blow at them, prompted by a desire for party vengeance. This not being sufficiently strenuous, it declared that the vacation of the offices was the “basest ingratitude” to the members of the Republican party who had made the Convention possible by putting the ballot in the hands of the disfranchised; that it was in violation of all good precedents, an ex parte judgment of condemnation pronounced alike upon the just and the unjust, an act of tyranny, in violation of the Constitution of the United States, which would make the North distrust the South, would be deemed a proclamation of war, against Union men, discourage immigration, prevent the investment of capital, postpone the general removal of disabilities by Congress, give additional reasons for Federal intervention, and delay the return of peace and harmony, and the ultimate restoration of the Union.31

Happily these predictions were not fulfilled.

30 Journal, Constitutional Convention, 1870, pages 253-254. 31 Journal, Constitutional Convention, 1870, 253-254.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE CONSTITUTION OF 1870-Continued.

When Judge Nicholson, the Nestor of the Convention of 1870, declared that within ten years it would be necessary to revise the Constitution again, his associates, apparently, agreed with him, and shaped their course accordingly, and yet thirty-five years have elapsed and not a single change has been made.

This does not prove that the members of the Convention were wrong, in believing that before long a new Constitution would be needed, and they could not anticipate that a majority of the people would be, apparently, without interest in the subject; that demagogues would be heard to oppose a Constitutional Convention on the ground of expense; that powerful corporate interests would band themselves against it, and that all who held office would antagonize it. The members of the Convention were men of the old regime, who had passed their lives in slaveholding, agricultural Tennessee, and who seeing many changes made, and many impending, admitted their inability to provide for a future of unknown, but certainly new, conditions. The slave had become the political equal of his former master; the white man was impoverished; disorder, poverty, and calamity were on every hand; a new industrial system was to be built up; and a new distribution of lands, and a general social, political and industrial re-adjustment to be made. Wisely admitting its own limitations, the Convention left to a later generation the duty of adapting the organic law to the new conditions. The time has come when that duty should be done. A short survey of conditions in the State will discover abundant reasons for calling a Constitutional Convention, and for a more extended revision of the organic law than was made in 1834, or in 1870. The present Constitution, as has been shown, is not different in any vital respect from the Constitution of 1834. The tremendous social and industrial changes that have occured since 1834, and indeed since 1870, have created a necessity for revision, or for systematic disregard of the Constitution in important respects, despite the most liberal judicial constructions. is especially true in view of the fact that the Conventions of 1834 and 1870, did not content themselves with enunciating general principles, but made the Constitution, a long and complicated statute, and in addition the Convention of 1870, laboring under apprehensions caused by unfortunate but temporary conditions, adopted certain restrictive rules, which in normal circumstances have operated injuriously. Of this last class is the militia clause already considered.

In 1897, the Legislature passed an Act authorizing the people to vote upon the question of calling a Constitutional Convention. The election was held in August of that year, and resulted in the overwhelming defeat of the proposition. The Democratic party was in control of the Legislature when the Act was passed, and of the State when the election was held. Long before the election it became apparent that the Convention would not be called. The office holders of the State, with practical unanimity opposed it, and, as these were mainly Democrats, the proposition failed to receive the support of the dominant party, while the Republicans voted against it because it had originated in a Democratic Legislature, and because it was believed that a Constitutional Convention would adopt additional measures to regulate the right of suffrage among the negroes.

The Legislature of 1903, which was controlled by the Democrats, passed an Act submitting to the voters of the State the question of amending the Constitution so as to make the Governor's term of office four years, to provide for the election of the Secretary of State, the Treasurer and the Comptroller by the people; to make the terms of Sheriffs and Trustees four years; to allow laws to be passed, for certain districts, regulating the establishment and maintenance of public roads, and fences, and to control domestic animals; to exempt persons, firms, and corporations, beginning the business of manufacturing, from taxation for a period not exceeding ten years, upon certain conditions, and to limit the indebtedness of cities, counties, and towns to ten per cent of the value of the taxable property in them."

These amendments were voted upon severally in the general election in the year 1904, and were, without exception, rejected by large majorities.

Thus the people of the State have declared twice, their indifference, or their objection, to the alteration of the Constitution. In the election of 1904, there was organized opposition in the Democratic party to the amendments, although the Act submitting them may be characterized properly as a measure of that party. Certain of the opponents of the amendments declared that they voted against them from the conviction that the entire Constitution needed recasting and, therefore, it was undesirable to undertake its revision piecemeal. If the controlling cause of the opposition be sought, it will be found that again the office holders of the State constituted the principal obstruction, although those directly affected by the amendments proposed, must be excepted from this declaration. The results of these two attempts are discouraging to the advocates of constitutional revision, but they do not express accurately the state of opinion on the subject. There is a strong and a growing sentiment in favor of a new Constitution, based, mainly, upon the facts which are now to be considered.

Among the most objectionable features of our State government is the County Court as at present consti

1 Acts of Tennessee, 1903, chapter 532.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »