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Proceedings and Debates of the 1864 Constitutional Convention
Volume 102, Volume 1, Debates 47   View pdf image (33K)
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adverted to by several members, and which I
believe to be held by most,—the American
doctrine of the sovereignty of these Conven-
tions, I do not dispute the sovereign power
of the people, the fact that they are the source
of power, that they can assemble en masse and
change their laws, or that they can assemble
Conventions equally sovereign to do the same
thing. But I draw the distinction here. It
is not only sovereign Conventions that are
known to American law and practice, but
bodies like this also, which by the very act
that frames them, and the very circumstances
under which they are assembled, only so
far represent the sovereignty of the people
as that sovereignty has indicated that it shall
be represented by them. ' 'Sovereign Con-
ventions" undoubtedly may be held, when
the people choose—but bodies like this are
only assembled, as a general thing, in this
country, for the mere restricted purpose of
proposing amendments to the organic law, and
they can in no just sense be said to possess
tire unlimited attributes of the sovereignty
This Convention meets under the sanction
of a law passed by the last Legislature. That
law prescribes the oath by which we shall
qualify ourselves before taking seats here,
and presents several other limitations upon
our acts, one of which is that we shall begin
our session, assemble, at Annapolis, and con-
tinue from day to day until our work is com-
plete, I concur with the gentleman from Anne
Arundel, (Mr. Miller) that the clear and obvi-
ous legal intendment and construction of that
clause is that the session is to be continued
from day to day where it began. Do I pre-
tend that because this Convention is limited
in respect to these clauses, it is limited by
virtue of any alleged power of the Legislature
to put a limitation upon a sovereign Conven-
tion? Not by any means, sir. The limita-
tions are effective only because, having been
submitted to popular vote, they have been
ratified by the people at the polls, and there-
fore proceed, not from the Assembly, but from
the great source of all power. What should
be the extent of our powers was a part of the
question submitted to the people and acted
upon by them ?
Will it be said that the people can be lim-
ited in their power to call Conventions, so
that any Convention called by them must ne-
cessarily be sovereign whether they intend it
to be so or not? Do we not detract from the
fullness of their sovereign power when we say
that they cannot call a Convention which
shall be a little less than sovereign? If sov-
ereignty be the great and controlling power
which according to our American law we are
taught to believe it is, it ought certainly to
have the power of self regulation and self lim-
itation. The question under this bill was not
whether there should assemble at the city of
Annapolis a sovereign Convention which
should be possessed of fall power from the
people to overturn the laws, and the Constitution
of the State, subject to no control but its
own will; but the proposition for which the
people voted was that the Convention should
meet here for the purposes, with the objects,
and under the limitations that were stated in
the act by which the body was to be called.
in other words, this Convention has what-
ever power the people have intended it should
possess. The extent of that" power is to be
measured by a consideration of what the peo-
ple did on the 6th day of April. I hold that
the only question before them, on that day,
and the only question which they voted upon
and decided, was—not that a Sovereign Con-
vention should meet—but that a Convention
should assemble to propose changes in the or-
ganic law, the said body to be constituted in
the manner and under the limitations con-
tained in the act which authorized said elec-
tion. Will it be pretended that we could vio-
late that limitation in said act, which requires
tire submission of our notion to a vote of the
people? And if that limitation be binding,
as qualifying our powers, why not the
others ?
This is my opinion then, in which I have
the misfortune to differ with many gentlemen,
upon the true construction of the constitu-
tional law. Admitting that sovereign Con-
ventions may exist, I consider this as merely
one of those American resorts to which the
people of these States have so often had re-
course to reform their government, and which
fall outside of the scope of what we under-
stand by strictly and absolutely sovereign
Conventions. If I am not right upon that
point, if it be true that this.? body is sovereign
and can do anything it may think proper to
do; if it be true that we may disregard the
oath imposed for our qualification; if it be
true that we may perform ordinary legisla-
tive functions; if it be true that we may, un-
der the circumstances under which we now
meet, annex this State, if we choose, to the
Static of Pennsylvania; if it be true that we
may empty the treasury; if it be true that we
are here as a sovereignty, with no legal obli-
gations to be guided by :—at least I may suc-
cessfully contend, as ably argued by the gen-
tleman from Anne Arundel, (Mr. Miller,)
that the passage of this bill and its adoption
by the people, imposed upon us the highest
sort of moral obligation to be guided by its:
provisions, even if not legally binding, unless
some controlling reason be shown to the contrary.
And that obligation is strengthened
by the consideration of the antiquity of this
city as our capital, its identification as such
with the history of the State, the conveniences
which we have here, which have not been
shown to be surpassed by any superior con-
veniences of Baltimore or any other city, the
knowledge that the people expected us to
meet here, in precisely the place where the

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Proceedings and Debates of the 1864 Constitutional Convention
Volume 102, Volume 1, Debates 47   View pdf image (33K)
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