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SELECTED LETTERS OF SALMON P. CHASE
UNION LEAGUE CLUB,
New York Jan 5th 1867
MY DEAR JUDGE CHASE - Thanks for
your note the first I have had the pleasure of receiving from you for a long time. I wrote you once from Europe, but do not know if my letter reached you.
In regard to the Constitutional Amendment & the exception it makes for crime, I regret that language had not been used so plain as to allow of no difference of opinion or construction, -in view of the disposition that was sure to
exist in the rebel states to strain every point in favor of slavery.
that in abolishing slavery in the Northern States, 'no such exception was deemed necessary to save the right of imprisonment for crime - and I am not sure that I regard your suggestion that the exception applies not to slavery but only to involuntary servitude, as having the conclusive weight with my mind that it has with yours, if one looks only at the language employed, for in the clause "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except for crime," the words "neither" & " nor" seem to place slavery & involuntary servitude in the same category. But I am entirely clear that such was not the intent of Congress, nor of the State Legislatures that adopted the Amendment nor of the American people whose will they were expressing in that vote - & I think that the Supreme Court have the right & that it is their duty to give the clause a construction that will prevent the re-establishment of slavery in any form under the pretence that it is sanctioned by the Amendment, & the sooner we have a final adjudication to this effect the better.
Touching the pending Amendment I had not shared the impression to which you refer that it admitted by implication the exclusive right of the states to control the Suffrage question.
The decision which I most wish to
see pronounced by your Court is that the adoption of the Amendment abolishing slavery has destroyed the only exception recognized by the Constitution to the great principle of the Declaration of Independence and that from the date of the adoption of the Amendment all persons black & white, stand upon an equal footing - & that all state legislation establishing or recognizing distinction of race or colour are void. This is a proposition easy to be understood, & I think capable of easy demonstration. It would give us a broad National policy on which to re-construct the Union. & I think it would be cordially welcomed by all truly loyal citizens, as one demanded by our situation - & necessities - & one which will clear our path of various troublesome - questions that make our progress difficult.
I read your opinion in the Milligan case with warm
admiration of its clear statement & sound logic, but with profound regret that you were not speaking for the majority of the Judges. If, as the public begin to fear, their denial in that case of the powers of Congress, is any index to the view they are prepared to take of the great questions that will come before them in reference to reconstruction, our situation is certainly a grave one. & it will require more wisdom that the Republican managers have sometimes shewn to surmount successfully the formidable opposition no longer of a simply obstinate President's defying the will of the people, but of an Executive furnished with a constitutional standpoint by the Supreme Judiciary, giving validity to his acts, &checkmating Congress at the most eventful moment by denying its powers & annulling its legislation.
I cannot yet consent to believe
that we are to be brought into this dilemma - & that appointees of Mr. Lincoln are ready to imitate the late Chief Justice in making the Courts the chief support of the advocates of slavery & the Rebellion. The bare idea of the rebel states casting their votes for election in 1868 - the blacks being excluded & giving us again a
democratic & rebel gov. is altogether intolerable - & yet that is what the Northern Democracy begin to hope for & expect.
Mrs. Jay & my children who are all well reciprocate your cordial good wishes & I am
Always faithfully yours
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