« AnteriorContinuar »
expiated his crime and become a good citizen of the State, and of the United States ? This was a question for the serious consideration of the committee. Sometimes, too, a conviction might be brought upon an honest and innocent man, and was it just that he, after having suffered the penalties of the law without having commited any crime, should undergo the additional hardship of being deprived of citizenship? He should, therefore, for the present, vote against this amendment.
Mr. STERIGERE said above all other matters he should raise his voice against giving to the Legislature the power to say what should be the qualifications of an elector. He would not authorize the Legislature to say who should and who should not vote. Whatever the qualifications of electors should be, they should be settled here and not left to any other body to determine.
Mr. AGNEW wished to know whether, if habitual drunkards became reformed, there was any provision which would entitle them to the privileges of an elector ?
Mr. READ said by the provision, as he understood it, a man would be declared a habitual drunkard so long as he continued in that habit; and would, consequently, so long be deprived of his right to vote, but the moment he reformed he was no longer a habitual drunkard, and would no longer be excluded from the polls.
Mr. AGNEw understood the provision to apply to all persons who had once been found to be habitual drunkards.
Mr. Brown said there were some persons who were in the habit of getting drunk on the fourth of July, and he should like to know if they would be declared habitual drunkards by this provision. It was certainly a habit with them to get drunk at that time.
The first branch of the amendment was then disagreed to, without a division.
The question then recured on the second branch of the proposition.
Mr. EARLE said this part of the subject was one of very great importance, and he trusted they would have the yeas and nays upon it. It was no less a question than granting to the Legislature the authority to deprive citizens of the right of suffrage. The question was, whether the Constitution should regulate the right of suffrage, or whether the Legislature should have the authority to regulate it by law. The Legislature had un. dertaken to regulate it by law in the city and county of Philadelphia, and they have undertaken it in more than one instance. At one time they underlook to prescribe a qualification for voting for corporation officers different from those for voting for State officers; but that law was in a short time repealed. They have now undertaken to say that no one shall vote in that city and county, except those who are registered, which was a different system from that practised in any other county in the State, and he had no hesitation in saying that it was a violation of the Constitution of the State. Gentlemen were under a mistake when they said it was neces. sary that there should be a registry to prevent disturbance and give the old and the infirm an opportunity of getting to the polls. If they would only divide the city and county into small wards and provide that the election officers should be selected from both parties, they would be conducted as orderly as in any other part of the State, and there would be as few illegal votes.
The gentleman from Franklin (Mr. Dunlop) had drawn a picture of the drunkenness and outrage commited at the polls in his district, and had said that it must be much worse in the city and county of Philadelphia because the people were not so pure there. He would tell the gentleman from Franklin that he had attended the polls in his district, in the county of Philadelphia, when there were upwards of a thousand votes polled in that one district, and he did not see a single man come on the ground intoxicated, or see a single disturbance. According, then, to the gentleman's own showing, the people of Franklin county are far more impure than those of the city and county of Philadelphia.
He concluded by calling for the yeas and nays, whtch were ordered.
Mr. Martin, did not think this was the most proper place to insert this amendment. He should vote for it in its proper place, but he would be compelled to vote against it here.
Mr. Smyth, of Centre, thought if this registry law was so onerous upon the citizens of Philadelphia they should not adopt it in other parts of the State. It was now in force there and some gentlemen here have asserted that it must be continued there. Then, if this amendment is adopted, we shall be compelled to have it all over the country. If this was to be the case he thought he should go against the amendment.
Mr. Brown, of Philadelphia, said the law was onerous upon the city and county of Philadelphia, and of such a character, as he believed, the people of the whole State, if they had felt the effects of it, would not impose upon Philadelphia. It was forced upon the city and county, in opposition to the will of a large majority of the voters. He knew this to be the case, that a large majority of the city and county are opposed to the law. What would any man think of having his name posted up on the sign posts, and blacksmith shop doors of the city and county, when the same thing was not required of his neighbor? What would the voters of any district think, if their names were to be posted up at every public place, while their neighbors, on the other side of an imaginary line, were not subject to this practice? Was this the way, that the names of any particular portion of the citizens of Pennsylvania were to be singled out, and posted up to the gaze of the world? No such distinctions as these should be made in relation to citizens of Pennsylvania. The citizens of the city and county of Philadelphia, he believed to be as peaceable, taken as a whole, as any other inhabitants of the State, and, he believed they conducted themselves as quietly and properly at the polls, as any other persons in the Union. To be sure, there were 100 many who had to vote at one place, and this should be provided for by the Legislature. The election districts should be divided; but, he had seen from five to eight thousand persons come on the election ground in one day, and during the whole of that day, had not seen one man come there intoxicated, and he had not seen the least disturbance. He should like gentlemen to show him the same number, collected together in any other part of the United States, to deposite their votes, who would conduct themselves in as peaceable a manner.
And because, forsooth, it had once happened that there was a little confusion in the township, the people were henceforth to be marked and branded—to have their names stuck up all over the place! He protested against the adoption of any such course, because it was making an un
wholesome distinction between them, and the people of other sections of the State, which they did not like. . This act of the Legislature had given more dissatisfaction to the people than any other which had been passed. It was an unjust restriction, for the reason, that it was not put in operation elsewhere. The Constitution required, that all laws should be equal throughout the State. This law, then, being unequal, ought to be immediately repealed. At the time it was passed, there was a portion of the people known to be obnoxious to the Legislature, and hence the political majority there passed the law in question, by way of punishment, he (Mr. B.) supposed, for their disobedience, and to throw obstacles in the
of the elective franchise. Political majorities do not always regard justice and right. He trusted that the provision would be inserted.
Mr. SMYTH, of Centre, said that it was far from his wish to impose any such law upon any portion of the people of Pennsylvania, unless they desired it. He did not know at the time the amendment was introduced, but what the people of the district desired it. He did not believe that his constituents wished for such a regulation.
Mr. PORTER, of Northampton, said that, although he approved of the object intended to be reached by the proposed amendment, he thought this was not the proper place to insert it, if the provision were necessary. The existing provision in the Bill of Rights, section 5, is, " that all elections shall be free and equal”: and this provision is perhaps as broad as the language now proposed. But the proper place for any provision restraining legislation, was in the bill of rights; and if, when we reached that part of the Constitution, it would be found, that any thing beyond this fifth section of the bill of rights was necessary, it could be introduced in its proper place. Mr. P. said, I feel it necessary to say this much, because, approving of the principle, I shall be obliged to vote against the amendment in this article. I have no doubt, that attention has been turned to this subject in consequence of the passage of the obnoxious law generally denominated the registry act, by the Legislature of 1835-6, which prescribes a different rule for regulating the right of suffrage in the city of Philadelphia, and in some of the adjoining districts of the county of Philadelphia, from the general law which applies to the rest of that county and the State at large. This act, I believe, is unconstitutional. On this subject I have never had a doubt. I have reflected well, and I give this as the deliberate result of my judgment upon it. The existing Constitutional provision is, that "every freeman of the age of twenty-one years, having resided in the State for two years nextubefore the election, and within that time paid a State or county tax, which shall have been assessed at least six months before the election, shall enjoy the rights of an elector”: And a provision follows that the sons of qualified voters, between the age of twenty-one and twenty-two years, shall be entitled to vote, without having paid taxes. A citizen residing in any other part of the State complying with these provisions, is entitled to vote at the election. But if one resides in the city or specified districts, he cannot vote, doing precisely the same act which the other did in the other part of the State. This was a violation of the spirit and letter of the Constitution ; and it was part of the doings of that Legislature, which, having obtained by accidental circumstances the ascendency, determined to exercise the little brief authority they possessed, to the utmost extent, well knowing that they would never have another chance.
I think this law unconstitutional; as it is partial and unequal, and I think it inexpedient and calculated to breed jealousy, and lead to alienation bótween the city and country, a result to be deprecated. I trust that an intimate union both of feeling and interest will ever subsist between the city and the country. I prize Philadelphia: It was there I set out on the great theatre of life. It was there the fostering hand of encouragement was held out to me, and I should be wanting indeed, could I cease to cherish for that city and its inhabitants the warmest feelings of gratitude and affection. There were found the friends of my youth and my manhood, from the bonds of friendship, with whom. I trust, I shall never de disengaged, however we may differ in opinion on any subject.
Is it then to be tolerated that a man who shall have performed all the Constitutional requisitions, and lived respected and beloved, shouldered his musket to meet the invaders of his country, and bled in her cause --shall in the city or county of Philadelphia be debared of the right of suffrage the dearest attribute of a freeman, when, if he lived in any other part of the State, he would be entitled to it? This inequality of the enjoy. ment of the right was objectionable as repugnant to the Constitution, and as inexpedient. And yet the person suffering under it was remediless, because if he sued the inspector for damages for refusing his vote, he could only recover on proving malice. And the officer pleading the act in his defence, would be acquited of the malicious intent, although the act itself was unconstitutional.
Mr. DARLINGTON, of Chester, said that the argument of the gentleman from Northampton, (Mr. PORTER) would be more appropriate in the Legislature, on a bill for the repeal of some grievous and obnoxious law, affecting any particular portion of the State, than in a Convention to amend the Constitution. He would say, then, that he regarded the remarks of the gentleman as sadly out of place. He apprehended that an attentive daily observer of the proceedings of this body, could not have failed to perceive that if there was any one error into which we were more likely to run than another, it was that of introducing our own local grievances here, and asking a change of a fundamental law, in order to meet the particular case. Now, he would ask if that was not the fact? And was not this precisely the course which was pursued in the Legislature? Any one who had bestowed the slightest attention on their proceedings, must have seen that they were continually passing laws, having for their object the remedying of certain local grievances. Let not, then, this Convention fall into the same error, and insert in the Constitution of Pennsylvania a provision which would not be applicable to the whole State, when intended only to meet particular grievances in a certain portion of it. Now, if a law had been passed, applicable only to the city and county of Philadelphia, and which, in the course of time, was discovered to be unsalutary in its effects, what, he asked, was the proper course to pursue ? Why, to go the Legislature, not to bring it here, for it was a subject of local legislation alone. The Legislature possessed the power to repeal it, at any time when it was the desire of the city and county, and not in. consistent with the general welfare. He would ask gentlemen, if they would be willing to insert a provision in the Constitution that would tie up the Legislature, and prevent it from complying with the wish of the county of Chester, if they should ask for a registry law to keep foreign
roters trom controling their elections? He thought they would not. He was of opinion that they ought to leave to the Legislature power to grant relief for grievances, as may hereafter be necessary. And, what was the argument of the gentleman from Northampton ? Why, he had contended that the amendment ought to be inserted in the Bill of Rights, and that the registry act was unconstitutional and inconsistent, because it was set forth in the Bill of Rights, “ that all elections shall be free and equal”. The gentleman might be correct; but he (Mr. D.) would not admit, for a moment, inasmuch as he was not then prepared to decide the question, that either the registry law, or any law, was unconstitutional. By no means. He could not agree with the gentleman, that registering a man's name and residence as a qualified voter, was casting a blemish on his reputation. It was merely the evidence of his having been assessed, and of his right to vote. He (Mr. DARLINGTON) was not able to perceive that the registry law was more inconsistent, than any thing else which the Legislature might see fit to prescribe.
Mr. Dickey, of Beaver, said that he agreed with the gentleman from Northampton, (Mr. PORTER) that the language of the Bill of Rights was, " that the elections shall be free and equal”, and that the object of that declaration was to prevent the improper exercise of the elective franchise. It sometimes became necessary for the Legislature to pass laws to preserve the freedom and equality of the elections, to carry out the provisions of the Constitution, by guarding the rights guaranteed to the people. Now, the object of passing the registry law was to prevent the repetition of those frauds which had been commited by both political parties in the city and county of Philadelphia, and which rendered the elections of the whole State unequal. To guard the rights of the people, and to make the elections " free and equal", the Legislature passed the registry law-and it was not only a wholesome law, but perfectly Constitutional. The gentleman from Northampton had argued that the rule which would prescribe this registry law as applicable to the city and county of Philadelphia, would make it so to every other part of the State. Now, he (Mr. D.) would ask the gentleman, why, according to that rule, the polls should be kept open a longer time in Philadelphia, than in any other part of the State i The gentleman could not have forgotten that fact. However, it was merely a law to regulate the mode of eleetion. Other laws regulating the manner of elections in the city and elsewhere, had frequently been passed. In the country, the elections commenced at ten o'clock. In the city, the polls opened at eight. Was this regulation unconstitutional ? Were any laws unconstitutional, which prescribed different modes and different places and times of receiving votes, unconstitutional because they do not apply to the whole State ? He should like to see the thing tested. Let them bring the question before the Supreme Court. They would then find their mistake.
Mr. REIGART, of Lancaster, said the delegate from Northampton has told us that the act of 1835-6, is a palpable violation of the Constitution, and this position he attempts to sustain by calling to his aid the fifth section of the Bill of Rights, which declares that “elections shall be free and equal”. In taking this position, the delegate seems to be peculiarly unfor tunate; there does not seem to be the slightest analogy. This section does not shed a single ray of light on the act in question. As well might the