Speech to the House of Representatives

William Finck - February 1867.


In the following speech, Representative William Finck (D-Ohio) argues that the Federal Government is violating the constitution and the principles of free government by attempting to impose its version of Reconstruction the Southern states. Finck is opposed to the Radical Republicans in Congress and refers to the Committee on Reconstruction as a "maelstrom committee, which swallows up everything that is good
and gives out everything that is evil".

If I understood the gentleman correctly, he claims the power to pass this bill under the law of nations and upon the doctrine of the right of the conquerors to take possession of and control conquered territory and its inhabitants in such a manner as may suit the purposes of the conqueror. This is the ground upon which the measure is defended. Certainly no man will insult the intelligence of the American people by defending it upon any other principle. It is at war with the Constitution; it is at war with every principle of free government. And I submit, Mr. Speaker, that it cannot be successfully defended on the ground upon which it is placed by the chairman of the committee.

He places it upon the ground that we, as conquerors, have a right to dictate to the people of these ten States their governments and by the strong arm of military power hold and treat them as a conquered people. I deny most emphatically both the premises and conclusions of the learned gentleman.

I can understand very well how when two distinct and foreign nations are engaged in war, the result of that war may be a conquest of the territory and of the inhabitants of the belligerents. That result has been achieved more than once in the history of the nations of the earth. But, sir, that condition of things could not result from the late war for the suppression of the rebellion. What was that war, Mr. Speaker? It was not a war between distinct and separate nations. It was a war upon the part of the Federal Government, to do what? Not to make a conquest of territory. Not a war for subjugation. No, sir; it was a war on the part of the Federal Government to enforce its laws throughout the jurisdiction of the United States. It was a war on the part of the Federal Government to remove all armed opposition to the execution the laws and maintain the supremacy of the Government; to preserve the union of these States and to to suppress all opposition to the just execution of the laws of the United States.

Need I say that in such a war as that, confined within the limits of the Republic, there could not be any conquest of territory or the people of any State belonging to the Union? I put the question to to the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. STEVENS:] what did you conquer? You conquered a peace; but did you conquer a single inch of territory over which the United States did not exercise jurisdiction before the war commenced? Not a single inch, sir. Neither did you acquire by the results of the war jurisdiction over a single man, woman, or child over whom you would not not have had jurisdiction if the war had not taken place? No, sir; you merely reestablished firmly the jurisdiction of the United States, not over any new territory, not over territory conquered from a foreign enemy, but we reestablished the jurisdiction of the United States over what had been and what continued to be during the war; a part of the territory comprised within the boundaries of the United States. We are not to-day exercising jurisdiction over these ten States rightfully by the laws of nations, and can only exercise over them the jurisdiction and authority which was authorized before the war commenced, and which is regulated by the Constitution of the United States.

Source: The Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, Session 2, Reel 26, pages 1078-1079.

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