Page:Essays on the Civil War and Reconstruction.djvu/255
THE PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTION
of a large part of the population from the freeman's right to hold office, but also in the substantial denial of protection of life and property to an equally large class. It was the constitutional duty of Congress to see that a republican form of government existed in every state, and in fulfillment of that duty the assumption of control in Georgia was justifiable. But even more conclusive, if possible, was the right to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment in Georgia. There could be no pretense, it was held, that the disqualifications for office-holding imposed by that amendment were respected by the legislature, or that the equal protection of the laws was given to blacks as the amendment required. It was the duty of Congress to enforce the provisions of this amendment, and the purging of the legislature and the maintenance of order by the military power were necessary and proper means for the performance of this duty.
The House of Representatives did not act finally on General Butler's bill in the spring of 1869. Before the next meeting of Congress the supreme court of Georgia, on a test case brought before it, decided that under the constitution and laws of the state negroes had the right to hold office. 
There had been a general understanding that the majority in the legislature would be guided by the opinion of the court, though there was of course no obligation upon them in this respect. In view
- The opinions are given in McPherson, Reconstruction, p. 466. R