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CHAPTER THREE The Origin of Southern Oligarchy 105 The Plan of the Republican Fathers The Republicans generally agreed that the Southern oligarchy was revolutionary and not conservative, in the proper American sense of the word conservative . The word requires a referent, and to the Republicans the American founding was the logical referent of American conservatism. The rulers and defenders of the Southern regime could be deemed conservative only if the referent of their conservatism was aristocratic-­ monarchic forms of government that antedated the American founding. The Republicans sometimes attributed conservatism to the oligarchy in this qualified sense. But to them it was improper to place the referent of American conservatism there. The American founders, said Senator James Nye of Nevada, “started with a new doctrine and a new theory” and “threw aside the postulates of aristocracy . . . instituting government to protect natural and personal rights.”1 Measured against that referent, the development of Southern oligarchy and the deliberate policy of extending slavery broke from and did not conform to the plan of the American founding. The aim of the Republicans was to correct that deviation and bring the nation into closer conformity with that plan. They, and not the oligarchy, were the true conservatives. In 1862 Isaac Arnold reminded his colleagues that there were some “who adopt the name of conservatives to preserve slavery,” but their conservatism was false. Those so-­ called conservatives constituted “the aristocracy of slavery” and were fighting for “slavery and the subversion of constitutional liberty,” to which he added, “From all such conservatives ‘Good Lord, deliver us.’” But they, the Republicans, belonged to “another class,” the true conservatives, “who wish to preserve the Constitution, the life of the nation, liberty, and all which is dear to us.”2 PART I THE REPUBLICAN ARGUMENT 106 A single example provides ample proof of Republican agreement that the slave South had developed in an oligarchic direction and had deviated from the plan of the American founders, and that is the speech of Charles Sumner on February 5 and 6, 1866. The reaction of his Republican colleagues shows that even the opponents of his policy agreed with him. By then, the postwar Thirty-­ Ninth Congress had been convened for two months, preoccupied with the question of Reconstruction policy. This policy would determine how to implement the establishment of republican government in the insurrectionary states. At that crucial time, Sumner delivered a two-­ day speech on the meaning of American republicanism as established by the founders and the deviancy of Southern oligarchy. Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution required that the national government guarantee a republican form of government to the states. Although Congress generally agreed that the insurrectionary states were not republican , a thorough and precise definition of what constituted a republican form of government was required. Addressing the Senate, Sumner said that this was “a practical question, which you are summoned to decide.” To fulfill its constitutional duty to guarantee a republican form of government, the Senate had to “affix its meaning.” The Constitution compelled them to answer the question.3 Sumner’s speech attempted to affix a proper meaning to that definition. Among the congressional Republicans who opposed Sumner’s views of Reconstruction policy were James Blaine, William Fessenden, and Senator George H. Williams of Oregon. The occasion of Sumner’s speech was debate on the “Blaine Amendment.” In the House, Blaine had successfully advanced a proposed amendment to the Constitution, and Fessenden called for its consideration in the Senate. The proposed amendment, an early draft of what would become part of the Fourteenth Amendment, did not require states to enfranchise freedmen, but reduced the basis of apportioning representation by the number of all persons a state might exclude from the elective franchise. Sumner claimed that no amendment was necessary. The Constitution already affirmed the right of Congress to guarantee a republican form of government by regular statutory enactment, and he countered Fessenden with a substitute bill that did include the mandatory extension of the franchise. Later, Blaine wrote, “as a political argument calculated to shape and determine the legislation of Congress,” Sumner’s speech “was singularly inapt .”4 The day after Sumner’s speech, an exasperated Fessenden also attacked Sumner’s policy position, as did others.5 Williams argued that although the CHAPTER THREE THE ORIGIN OF SOUTHERN OLIGARCHY 107 present majority in the Congress might agree with Sumner on “the constitutionality and expediency of such legislation,” the constitutional views of a future majority in Congress might...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826273918
Related ISBN
9780826221353
MARC Record
OCLC
1005201029
Pages
419
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Language
English
Open Access
No
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