War of the Rebellion: Serial 127 Page 1156 CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

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ATLANTA, June 21, 1862.


President, &c.:

DEAR SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 29th ultimo in reply to mine of the 8th of the same month, which reached my office at Milledgeville on the 8th instant, together with a copy of the written opinion of the Attorney-General, and has since been forwarded to me at canton, where I was detained by family affliction. Your reply, prepared after mature deliberation and consultation with a Cabinet of distinguished ability who concur in your view of the constitutionality of the conscription act, doubtless presents the very strongest argument on defense of the act of which the case is susceptible. Entertaining as I do the highest respect for your opinions and those of each individual member of your Cabinet, it is with great diffidence that I express the conviction, which I still entertain after a careful perusal of your letter, that your argument fails to sustain the constitutionality of the act; and that the conclusion at which you have arrived is maintained by neither the contemporaneous construction put upon the Constitution by those who made it, nor by the practice of the United States Government under it during the earlier and better days of the Republic, nor by the language of the instrument itself, taking the whole context and applying to it the well-established rules by which all constitutions and laws are to be construed. Looking to the magnitude of the rights involved and the disastrous consequences which I fear must follow what I consider a bold and dangerous usurpation by Congress of the reserved rights of the States and a rapid strike toward military despotism, I very much regret that I have not in the preparation of this reply the advise and assistance of a number equal to your Cabinet of the many eminent citizens who, you admit, entertain with me the opinion that the conscription act is a palpable violation of the Constitution of the Confederate. Without this assistance, however, I must proceed individually to express to you some views in addition to those contained in my former letters and to reply to such points made by you in the argument as seem to my mind to have the most plausibility in sustaining your conclusion. The sovereignty and independence each one of the thirteen States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States will not, I presume, be denied by any, nor will it be denied that each of these States acted in its separate capacity as an independent sovereign in the adoption of the Constitution. The Constitution is therefore a league between sovereigns. In order to place upon it a just construction we must apply to it the rules which by common consent govern in the construction of all written constitutions and laws. One of the first of these rules is to inquire what was the intention of those who made the Constitution. To enable us to learn this intention it is important to inquire what they did and what they said meant when they were making it. In other words, to inquire for the contemporaneous construction put upon the instrument by those who made it and the explanations of its meaning by those who proposed each part in the convention which induced the convention to adopt each part. I incorporated into my last letter a number of quotations from the debates of prominent members of the convention upo in question, showing that it was not the intention of the convention to give to Congress the unlimited control of all the men able to bear arms in the States, but that it was their intention to reserve to the States the control over those who composed their militia by retaining to the States the appointment of the officers