Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

constitution) has been kept in close prison for more than three months, under a charge of treason; but, in reality, for attempting to maintain, according to his oath of office, the people's constitution, and for carrying out the doctrines of the declaration of American independence.

The undersigned believe, and affirm, that this interference of the President in the affairs of a State, small in territory, easy of access, with an imperfect military organization, and incapable, by itself, of resisting a powerful attack from abroad, had the effect of overawing the people and of strengthening the adverse party; and that it mainly caused the overthrow of the people's constitution and government. If the President had let us alone, the new government would have been peaceably established, and generally acquiesced in.

The undersigned desire to make their solemn protest against the course pursued by the President of the United States. If, under the name of suppressing “insurrections," and repressing “domestic violence,” the President can thus control the States in their internal affairs, and cast the sword into the scale of the party which he espouses, he is, in fact, a military dictator of all-absorbing powers, to be brought out as occasion may require; State rights are a mockery, and the declaration of independence is (as it is here asserted to be)" a rhetorical flourish,” intended for a purpose long since gone by; popular sovereignty is a delusion; and we have not, as was supposed at the Revolution, escaped from the aristocratic and monarchical doctrine of the Old World--that government is sovereign, and the people are subjects.

Let it be borne in mind, that when the President commenced his in. terference with the affairs of this State, there was no “insurrection," no

domestic violence.” The people were not overthrowing a government, but rightfully and peaceably substituting another, to take effect at a prescribed time; the laws being continued in operation, and the officers and magistrates being continued in their places until duly superseded by new elections and appointments.

The people of this State, who supported the constitution of 1841, were desirous, at the late election of members of your House for this State, of choosing their own candidates by the electors authorized under said con. stitution, and thus of bringing the question of our rights under the same to your consideration, upon a competition for the seats of the present members. But this was impossible, as, by one of the Algerine laws of this State, (properly so called,) all meetings for such a purpose are de. clared riotous, to be suppressed by civil and military force; and the people present, after the reading of the riot act, and without time to retire, might be shot down forth with.

The undersigned, in view of the facts now stated, and in behalf of their democratic fellow-citizens, therefore respectfully request that the House of Representatives of the United States will inquire whether the President of the United States has any such power of interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign State, as he has claimed and exercised in the case of Rhode Island.

The undersigned further request the House of Representatives to call | upon the President of the United States for the authority, and for copies i of the applications, upon which he acted in this case; for the instructions

to, and statements of, the charter commissioners, sent to him from this State; for the correspondence between the Executive and the charter Governor of this State, and all the papers and documents connected with the same; for any correspondence between the heads of departments and said Governor, or any person or persons connected with said charter gov. ernment, and for any accompanying papers and documents; for all orders issued by the Executive, or any of the departments, to military officers, for the movement or employment of troops to or in Rhode Island; and for all orders to naval officers to prepare steam or other vessels of the United States for service in the waters of Rhode Island; for all orders to officers of revenue-cutters for the same service; for any instructions borne by the Secretary of War to Rhode Island, on his visit in 1842, to review the charter troops; for any order or orders to any officer of the army or navy to report themselves to the charter government. And the undersigned request an inquiry whether such officers took part in advising said gov. ernment, forming plans, giving directions, and otherwise ; also, an inquiry whether, or not, certain officers in the pay of the United States did not, in June, 1842, at Providence, and at the head of gangs of armed whites and negroes, forcibly enter the houses of suffrage-men, and maltreat them, and despoil them of their property ; also whether, in 1842, in this State, private correspondence through the post office was violated, and by whom.

The undersigned further request the House of Representatives to inquire whether the members of said House from the State of Rhode Island are entitled to their seats; inasmuch as a large number of persons, entitled, under the people's constitution, to vote at their election, were excluded from the polls, and the electors were debarred from voting for candidates in opposition, under said constitution, by the military law before described.

The undersigned further request the Congress of the United States to execute to this State the guaranty in the national constitution, of a republican constitution, in favor of thut which was rightfully and duly adnpted in this state in December, 1841, and established and carried into effect by the organization of a government under it in May, 1842.

The undersigned also request such further aid as Congress may deem it in their power and expedient to afford.

SAMUEL STEERE,
OLNEY BALLOU,
OTIS WOOD,
CYRUS BROWN,
LEVI C. EATON,

Senators.

GEORGE C. CARR,

ANSON POTTER.
Believing the statement to be sub-

stantially correct,
ISAAC'WILKINSON.

Representatives.
EDDY KEECH,

WILLIAM SMITH,
GLADDING 0. THOMPSON, THOMAS BUFFUM,
ADAMS PARK,

ARIEL BALLOU,
JAMES ANGELL,

FENNER BROWN,
CYRUS FARNUM,

WILLIAM LATHAM,
WILLIAM STEERE,

JOSEPH T. SISSON,
DAVID WILBUR,

JONATHAN COLE,
JAMES HARKNESS,

NILES WESTCOTT,
PARDON ANGELL,

RICHARD MOWRY.
PROVIDENCE, February 1, 1844.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

The memorialists allege the following facts, which they pray may be inquired into by the House, viz:

i. That a large majority of the adult male inhabitants of the State of Rhode Island did, in the exercise of their inherent sovereign power, in December, 1841, rightfully adopt, and duly ratify, a constitution of govern. ment, republican in its form and character, agreeably to the guaranty of ihe constitution of the United States.

2. That said constitution was suppressed through the intervention of the President of the United States, by placing at the disposal of the late charter government of Rhode Island the military power of the Union; and that another constitution, by means of such intervention by the President, was forced upon the people of that State against their consent, and under the doress of martial law. .

3. That the people of Rhode Island were disposed to test the validity of the constitution adopted by them, and the one imposed upon them by a minority of the people of that State, through the said intervention of the President, by the election of members to the House of Representatives, that the question might be raised by the coinpetition for seats which would necessarily follow; but that they wire prevented from so doing, by a law passed by the ruling party, which law declared all meetings of the people for such a purpose riotous assemblages, which were subject to instant dispersion at the peril of being shot down on the refusal of those present to disperse.

Other matters are alleged by the memorialists, of minor importance, but which have occupied the attention of the conuinitiee, and will receive due Rotice in the progress of this report.

The first inquiry which suggested itself to the consideration of the com: mittee was, as to ihe extent of the authority of the House to act in the matters set forth in the foregoing memorial; and on this point they had no difficulty in coming to a conclusion. The constitu:ion of the United States (art. 4, sec. 4) makes it obligatory upon the General Government to guaranty to each State a republican form of government, and to protect it from dumestic violence.

By the memorialists it is alleged, among other things, that this provision of the constitution has not been fulfilled to the people of Rhode Island by the Voited States; but, on the contrary, that, under the pretence of suppressing domestic violence, the military power of the United States was exerted by the Executive to subvert and put down a republican form of government in the State of Rhode Island, which was duly framed and organ. iz:d by the people of said State, in the legitimate exercise of their inherent sovereign power; and a government established in place of the one subverted, without their consent, and against their express will. The committee did not hesitate in the belief that this complaint of the memorialists was a proper subject of inquiry on the part of the House, and that the House was bound by the most solemn injunctions of justice to the people of a sovereign State, alleging a grievance so grare and inomeutous, as well as

by constitutional obligation, to institute the inqniry prayed for, and to take such other action in relation 10 the subject submitted to its consideration as would be found to be within the scope of its duty and its power under the constitution.

With this view of the power of the House to investigate the subject. matters of the memorial, and influenced by a desire faithfully and impar. tially to execute the duty confided to them by the House, the committee, at an early stage of their proceedings, resolved:

Ist. To inquire into the fact of the adoption of the people's constitution" (hy which the constitution of December, 1841, is now generally known) by The people of Rhode Island; and,

2d. To inquire into the fact of the interference by the President of the United States, or by any officer of the Government of the United States, in the internal affairs of the people of Rhode Island, during the pendency of the late difficulties in that State, growing out of the adoption and final suppression of the “ people's constitution."

In order that all the parties interested in the investigation with which the committee was charged might have an opportunity to assert and vindi. cate all supposed rights and interests which might be involved in their proceedings, permission was given to the memorialists, and to the existing authorities of the State of Rhode Island, by a resolution of the committee, to attend, by agent or attorney, its sessions ; copies of which resolution were duly communicated to the memorialists, to the Executive of Rhode Island, and to the Representatives in Congress from said State.

The existing authorities of the State of Rhode Island have not deemed it expedient to avail themselves of the permission accorded to them as before stated, and have not attended the sessions of the committee, either by agent or attorney.

The memorialists have attended the sessions of the committee during a part of its investigations, by their agent.

Having stated these matters by way of introduction, the committee now proceed io the main subject of their investigation.

The fact that a portion (whether that portion constituted a majority will be hereinafter considered) of the people of Rhode Island did, in the month of December, 1841, adopt a constitution, establishing a republican forin of government, as stated by the memorialists, the committee understand vot to be disputed on any side. It is matter of history, which cannot be questioned, if any one were inclined to qnestion it.

HISTORICAL NOTICE OF THE ORIGIN OF THE CHARTER GOVERNMENT,

AND ITS FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES.

In order to comprehend clearly the reasons which induced the people of Rhode Island to adopt a new constitution, without the consent of the exist. ing government of that State, and in the exercise of their own inherent sovereign power, as they construed their power, it will be necessary to enter into a brief history of the origin and character of the government then existing, and which they thus sought to change or abolish.

The first authentic form of government established within the present territorial jurisdiction of the State of Rhode Island, was that which was derived from the charter granted under the authorily of Parliament in

1643. That charter clothed the "inhabitantsof the colony with a full power and authority to govern and rule themselves, and such others as shall hereafter inhabit within any part of the said tract of land, by such form of civil government as by voluntary consent of all, or the greatest part of them, shall be found most serviceable in their estates and condi

tion." In other words, it established a democratic form of government for : the people of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It

gave to the inhabitants of said colony the right to establish such form of government as the majority could agree upon--a concession no less remarkable, considering the source whence it emanated, than it was liberal and republican in its character.

Thus was the governmentos Rhode Island, under its first charter, a democracy. It was confirmed by Cromwell in 1655, and continued a democracy until the charter of 1663 was obtained, when, and by which, its fundamental character was totally changed, whatever might thenceforward continue to be the ontward form of its organization. The charter of 1663 was granted by King Charles II, after his restoration, to William Brenton and otherscreating them, and such as "were and should be i adınitted free of the company” and their successors, a body corporate and politic, with all the powers and privileges incident to a corporation. It gave them a corporate name; it conferred upon them the right " to sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded," answer unto, and defend all actions, suits, &c., wbich the company might commence, or which might be commenced against them; it conferred upon them the power to hold lands, and to sell and alien the same. It gave them a common seal. In short, it invested them with all the powers and attributes of a corporation; ji gave the grantees power 6 TO CHOOSE, NOMINATE, AND APPOINT SUCH AND SO MANY OTHER PERSONS AS THEY SHALL TAINK FIT, AND SIIALL BE WILLING TO ACCEPT THE SAME, TO BE FREE OF THE SAID COMPANY AND BODY POLITIC, AND THEM INTO THE SAME ADMIT."

Thus could nobody be admitted to the company, or have a voice in its proceedings, without ihe consent of the grantees or corporators. The charler, therefore, created a CLOSE CORPORATION of the grantees, in the concerns of which no one could have a voice without their consent.

In addition to the mere privileges of a corporation, the grantees, in their corporate capacity, had conferred upon them by the charter all the powers of civil government over the colouy of Rhode Island, limited and restricted only by the laws and customs of England, which were expressly declared to be paramount to the powers of the corporation. The following was the organized form of government as prescribed by the charter.

There was to be a governor, depily governor, and ten assistants-the latter of whom, since the American revolution, have been dignified by the more lofty sounding and republican litle of Senators. They were to be "con: 1 stituted, chosen, and elected by the freemen of the said company;" and their duty was to "apply thensselves to take care for the best disposing and ordering of the general business and affairs of and concerning the lands and here. dilaments hereinafter mentioned to be granted, and the plantation thereof, and the government of the people therein.” In addition to the governor, deputy governor, and assistants, there were to be chosen by the major part of the freemen of the towns and places for which they should be elected, hisix persons for Newport, four persons for each of the respective towns of Providence, Portsmouih, and Warwick, and two persons for each other town,

« ZurückWeiter »