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delegate have told us that the Legislature have no right to create a new election district, or to enlarge or decrease the boundaries of an old one. Such legislation would not certainly be said to be unconstitutional. I apprehend that even the microscopic eye of that delegate could not point it out. What does this act provide for? Does it add any new qualification not provided for in the Constitution? Does the act in question superadd the payment of any taxes not enjoined by the Constitution ? But what, sir, does the act in question provide for? Not that any elector Constitutionally qualified to vote shall be disfranchised; not that the elector must possess himself of other qualifications not provided for in the Constitution ; but simply, sir, that the name of such elector shall appear in a certain register, which is to be made and kept of the voters of the wards, townships, and districts in the county of Philadelphia. Does this, sir, make the elections less free and equal than they were previous to the passage of that act? These registers, by the provisions of that act, are to be published for some time previous to the election, and put up for the inspection of electors in the most public places in the midst of a dense population) in the several wards and districts, so that the act seems to be one of detail altogether, without conflicting with any Constitutional principle whatever. It keeps no elector from coming to the polls. On the contrary, every man has a much better opportunity of securing his vote than under the old system. By inspecting the registry which stares him in the face at every corner of the public streets in his ward or district, he may be certain that it contains his name; and if it does not, he may rectify the mistake with great convenience to himself.
Mr. EARLE, of Philadelphia, said, that the gentleman from Chester had talked about petitions that were sent to the Legislature from the city and county of Philadelphia, for the registry act. He (Mr. E.) denied that they had sent any petitions. The fact of the matter was, that the representatives from the counties of Chester and Lancaster, imposed upon the people of Philadelphia this law. The gentleman from Lancaster (Mr. REIGART) had admited, that if the registry law imposed any qualifications, it was a violation of the Constitution. And, the gentleman from Chester had contended, that the Legislature had a right to require a different mode of proof, but not a different qualification, and that the registry was only proof that the citizen had a right to vote. The Constitutional time for proof was on the day of election. If proof was required at another time, it was a new qualification unknown to the Constitution.
Take the case of a seaman, who might sail out of Philadelphia, following his occupation, before the time of the registry. That he should return home from his voyage to New Orleans, Charleston, or Boston, on or near the day of the election. The assessor, about three weeks before the election, puts up the notice, and in ten days thereafter all voters, not included in the notice, must appear before him, and prove their qualifications. And, if they did not do so, the inspectors were prohibited from receiving their votes on the day of the election. The seaman would go to the polls, and not be permited to vote, although qualified according to the very letter of the statute, because he had not proved his qualifications so many days before the election. And, thus this man lost his vote, in conseqnence of the registry act. So a man, who should become qualified, by living in the State two years, between the time the assessors meet to receive the proof and the
election, such a man would lose his vote unconstitutionally. A man, too, who should neglect to pay his taxes, until within a week of the elec. tion, and no man is, in order to vote, by the Constitution, to pay them sooner, loses his vote. The operation of the law is unjust and unconstitutional.
Mr. BIDDLE, of Philadelphia, said it was not his intention to detain the committee, at this time, by any argument; but, as a citizen of Philadelphia, he felt himself bound to state that, from an extensive knowledge of the views and opinions of the inhabitants of that city, on the subject, he believed that the registry law was very popular with a large majority of them. His opinion was, that its practical operation had been, not to exclude voters from the polls, but to facilitate voting, and promote tranquility at elections. The two or three elections, preceding the passage of the registry law, were disgraced by tumult and violence, and by the exclusion of peaceful voters, and those since held, had been as much distinguished for quietness and order.
Mr. STEVENS, of Adams, said, that the adoption of the amendment would introduce no new principle into the Constitution. The same principle was contained now in the Bill of Rights, and in the case which had been mentioned, that principle had, in no respect, been violated. Some gentlemen here seemed to take great delight in attacking the Legislature for having passed certain acts, when they happened to be in a minority at the time, and thus travel out of the record to transcend the powers of this body. He would maintain, that there was no soundness in the doctrine contended for, that the registry act was unconstitutional. He denied that it, or any other which they had passed, was of that character. What, he enquired, was the registry act ? It was an act, which simply pointed out the mode of ascertaining who were entitled to the elective franchise, within a particular district, and the manner in which the election should be held. It added nothing to the qualification of voters--it took away no man's right. The gentleman from Beaver had well said, that several laws had, from time to time, been passed, regulating the elections in that city, and passed, too, in the hey-day of the power of the exclusive friends of free dom. Betore this registry law was passed, although gentlemen now seemed to be ignorant of the fact, disturbances, outrages, turbulence, violence, and bloodshed, pervaded the city on the day of election. Men were shot, and murder was perpetrated in the streets. Every one knows the fact—the newspapers of all parties gave the sickening details at the time. For the purpose of preventing such disgraceful scenes, and to give the honest voters a chance to record their votes, and to prevent those who had no right to vote, the registry law was passed. It happened to be passed by a Legislature opposed to them in politics, and this was the only reason why they objected to it. That was enough to stamp it with infamy in their opinion. It was sufficient cause for their opposition that it was not passed by themselves.
There might be many reasons adduced why a registry law should be in operation in Philadelphia, which would not apply to the county of Adams. Now, he would ask, what was the practical operation of that law in the State of Massachusetts? Why, registry was passed for the city of Boston, while it was not used in the country. There was nothing wrong in it. The people in cities required different regulations from those in the counties.
And what, he would enquire, was done by the New York Convention ? In the Convention which assembled in the State of New York, a few years since, to revise the Constitution, a proposition was submited to insert a clause in the new Constitution, giving the Legislature power to pass a registry act.
Was it done by those who were not Democrats ? Mr. VAN BUREN, who was a member of that Convention, as will be seen by the Register of Debates, said that “there was no reason for inserting such a clause, because a registry of votes was NO PART OF THE QUALIFICATION OF A VÕTEŘ”. Now, what would these gentlemen say? Dared they? Would they impugn the sentiments of Mr. VAN BUREN? They dared not do it! They might as well be hanged. Mr. VAN BUREN had settled the question about the Constitutionalty, and we should hear no more about it. _ “ No part of the qualification of an elector”, says Mr. VAN BUREN. This, then, was high authority, andsettled this question. His supporters dare not call his opinion in question.
Mr. PORTER here gave way for a motion to adjourn, and
The Convention adjourned till 4 o'clock.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON, 4 O'CLOCK.
The committee again resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the third article of the Constitution. Mr. KERR, of Washington, in the Chair.
The question pending, being on the second division of the amendment of Mr. STERIGERE to the amendment.
Mr. Porter resumed « There was, in one of the Latin authors which he read at school, a sentiment—"Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri "--which he had adopted and practised on through life. The idea conveyed by this sentiment might be expressed in English in the familiar phrase—“I never pin my faith on any man's sleeve"; and this would be a sufficient reason why I should not adopt the sentiment ascribed by the gentleman from Adams to the distinguished citizen now at the head of our national affairs, unless it met my own approbation. But there really must be some hopes of reformation for that delegate, since he begins to quote from so good a source. It is to be hoped that all the acts of the gentleman quoted will equally meet the approbation of the delegate from Adams. I do not, however, understand that individual to have asserted, that even if the Legislature had the power to prescribe the registration of voters, they would have a right, under such a Constitutional provision as we have, to declare that such registry should be the only and conclusive evidence of the right or want of right of the citizens to vote. I have, however, in my professional advocations, been so much in the habit of consulting the opinions of the aged, the learned, and the experienced, that I seldom come to a conclusion on any subject without examination, consultation, and re: fection; and this course I have pursued in relation to the matter now before the committee.
I understand the gentleman from Beaver, (Mr. DICKEY) as well as the gentleman from Lancaster, (Mr. REIGART,) to say that this registry act
prescribed no new qualification to the voters of the city and districts: that it merely regulated the evidence by which the right under the Constitution is to be established : and the former gentleman has asked whether the act: which directs the elections in the city of Philadelphia to be opened at an earlier hour in the day, than is provided for the rest of the State, is also unconstitutional ? I answer him that it is not; because it places no restriction in the way of the voter exercising his right; it merely gives him a little more time, that the right may be freely and fully exercised ; and it conflicts with no provision of the Constitution: it is an analogous provision to those which create convenient election districts.
The latter gentleman (Mr. REIGART) says, that nothing in the way of argument has been adduced to show the unconstitutionality of the act in question-nothing but bare assertion. I have no desire to go into the details of this act: I had not intended to do so: but as the gentleman from Lancaster is an old friend of mine, and one who will, no doubt, feel much gratified in being convinced on this subject, I will, even unwillingly, go about the work for his edification. [Mr. PORTER here went into an examination of the several sections, from section eighteen to section thirtyfive, of the act passed, June 16, 1836, showing the restrictions it imposed, and how different they were from the provisions of the general election law, and how much more onerous].
Mr. PORTER said this act was entitled “ An act for the regulation of election districts, and for OTHER purposes”. These cabalistic words, " for other purposes”, like charity, covered a multitude of sins, and no where more than in this act. It was one of the log-rolling acts which of late years had grown into fashion in legislation, and which it was high time to put a stop to. This act commenced with establishing some election districts, and changing the houses at which certain elections were held. It then proceeded with the registering provisions, and provisions for paying for property destroyed by mobs--next treated of city and county loans, and the drawing of orders on the treasury—then it created commissioners of a certain sinking fund— directed the election of city and county treasurer-then erects another election district-then directs the commissioners of Indiana county to execute a certain deed—then treats of borough elections in the borough of Indiana, and the settlement of the borough accounts; and after a repealing clause of all conflicting laws, winds up with a provision, no doubt introduced by the gentleman from Somerset, (Mr. Cox) for changing the route of a State road in his county. In this olla podrida are found the unconstitutional provisions of which I complain. The effect of this law is to restrain and restrict the right of suffrage. It is not to be disguised, for the fact is unquestionable, that one of the leading characteristics of distinction between the two great and leading political parties of this country, when we had parties formed on principle, was the fact that the federal party was for restraining the right of suffrage-for restricting the rights of the people; while the democratic party was for giving the largest extent to the exercise of the right of suffrage, and the greatest latitude to the rights of the people. This act was, in my judg. ment, passed to carry out the sentiments of those who do not wish the right of suffrage extended to all. Such, I am satisfied, was the object of its author. It was got up for political purposes, to produce political results that could not otherwise be attained. Its effect is to give advantages
to the rich and the knowing, to the prejudice of the poor laborer, who, toiling for his daily bread, has not time to run after these registering officers and their lists, and may not have information enough to study out the complicated provisions of this law; and thus it tramples under foot the rights of the poor and the humble. This, sir, is an inequality in the rights of the people, contrary to the genius and spirit of the Constitution. In truth, the injustice and unconstitutionality of the registry act is exhibited at once in the position, I trust clearly established, that I, residing in Northampton, am entitled to vote under a given state of facts, whilst my brother, residing in one of the districts of the county of Philadelphia, is not entitled to vote under the same circumstances. Can this be other than a violation of that provision which declares, “ that all elections shall be free and equal”? I put this to the common sense of every man in the community, and I defy sophistry or casuistry to becloud or mistify it.
I had not intended to go into the details, or into the merits of this same registry act, but I have been driven into it by the course pursued by the gentleman from Lancaster; and, whilst on this subject, I may be permited to say, that there was much indecent haste in the abuse of the power which that Legislature unfortunately possessed. On refering to the pamphlet laws of that session, I find, that on the 1st of April, 1836, the first edition of this registry law was passed. The sections 40 to 51 of another election district law, found at page 442, will be found to be a system of registry-the first they tried. Shortly after this the Legislature adjourned, and at the adjourned session in June, we find the existing provisions were enacted, repealing the former even before they had been tried in practice. Perhaps the current of public opinion had pretty plainly indicated that their race was nearly run, and feeling that they had might, and caring little for right, perfected the system that they had sprung upon the people, without their knowledge or consent.
The bill acknowledged to be unjust, and requiring essential alterations to make it work even tolerably in practice, was brought up at the last session of the Legislature. The popular branch of the Legislature, coming fresh from the people, with great unanimity, repealed the obnoxious provision. “ The Spartan band”, in the Senate, prevented its repeal, and it continues to be imposed on the people yet.
I trust I have now satisfied my friend from Lancaster, by something in the shape of reason and argument, and that I may look for his conviction and conversion. In reply to an observation of the gentleman from Adams, as to attacking the Legislature, I can only say, that I began this argument by discussing the legal and Constitutional question. The gentlemen on the other side, have drawn the Legislature, and the propriety or impropriety of their acts and motives, into question; and if, in consequence, I have been incidentally driven to refer to them, I can only say, they have richly deserved all they got, and if gentlemen desired to push the matter further, I have no objection to meet them, and give them more of it to their hearts' content.
Mr. REIGART: I regret, Mr. Chairman, the necessity which obliges me to reply to the arguments of the delegate from Northampton. I did sup. pose that we should have concluded the debate this morning, before the hour of adjournment should have arrived; but the delegate, having then had the floor, has thought proper to resume the debate this afternoon. It