What Does the Convention Mean?
The Register says our warnings against "the exercise of extraordinary and unauthorized powers" by the Convention are dictated by a "dread not so much of the prospective acts of the Convention as of the people's confirmation thereof." We bed to reassure our contemporary — we are not frightened. We have no "dread" of the action of the people of Illinois when properly enlightened in regard to public policy; neither have we any desire to excite any prejudice against the Convention, or against any individual thereof. On the contrary, we shall rejoice if the Convention, and every member composing it, can establish their fame upon a lofty and enduring fame of high-minded and honorable men and of enlightened and patriotic statesmen. Nothing would give us more pleasure than to see them prepare and present to the people of the State for their consideration, approval or rejection, a Constitution in all respects worthy to become the fundamental law of this great State, promoting, in the highest degree, the great ends of government, exact and equal justice to all citizens of the State, as well as their highest interests, peace, prosperity and happiness.
When the Convention by "a unanimous vote" declared its intention to "submit its work to the popular approval or rejection," we suppressed our unqualified satisfaction with that determination, and if the Convention will but adhere to that, and act consistently with it, we shall have nothing to say against its mode of procedure, whatever we may think of the constitution which it prepares. But when the Convention and its proposed organs on the outside, in this city, in Chicago and St. Louis, talk of doing a great deal more than this, and meditate acts utterly submersive of the well established principles of republican government, we view them in a very different light. When the Convention declares itself to be the supreme, sovereign power in the State, as it has repeatedly done in practice, if not in theory when it gets itself above the existing Constitution of the State, above the Legislature, and above the laws, which it brushes away so many cobwebs; when it issues its orders to every Department of the State Government as though it were their rightful director; when it proposes to pass "special ordinances" "to go into immediate effect;" when its committees declare that it has the right to re-district the State for members of Congress, although that has already been done in the manner prescribed by law; when, in a word, it comes to be disposed to interfere with all the functions of government, legislative, judicial and executive, with others not yet classified — what are we to think of it? Is it all mere talk? It is certainly not for the purpose of spending time and increasing the sum total or its per diem? We are not disposed to suspect it of so low a motive. If it believes itself possessed of such powers, it believes that it can exercise them — it has exercised them in several particulars, and we presume it wishes to see how the people will receive its claims and submit to its assumptions. It proceeds upon the old policy of the British Parliament of 1775, which claimed to be omnipotent over American as well as British affairs, but cautiously proposed to begin by levying only "a small tax" — well knowing, however, that "the right to levy a penny implied the right to levy a pound," and that the people who submitted to the one would soon be brought to submit to the other.
If the Convention have no such intention, if they intend to do nothing more than the business for which they were elected — that is to say, to prepare and present to the people of Illinois a revised Constitution, or, if they choose, an entirely new one, subject, however, to the decision of the whole people of the State, let them cease to transact all sorts of miscellaneous business having no bearing whatever upon the preparation of a constitution. Or if it find that a few restless members are still agitated with doubts upon the subject, let them take some such action as was taken by the Convention of 1847, where Gen. Singleton proposed the following:
Resolved, That this Convention is limited in its purposes and its power; its object being to propose for the acceptance of the people such changes in their present Constitution as to the Convention may appear necessary, limited to these changes by the true principles of a Republican government, and in the conduct of its body by the Constitution of this State, as far as it is applicable; that this Convention has no power to repeal or modify any act of the General Assembly of this State, otherwise then by Constitutional provisions, subject to the ratification of the people, or do any other act not necessary to the discharge of the trust confided to it.
Which was substantially adopted in the substitute of Mr. Archer, by which it was —
Resolved, That the Convention has assembled for the purpose of revising, altering or amending the Constitution of this State, and that the powers and duties of said Convention are limited, after its proper organization, to such objects only — the journal of the Convention, pages 13-15.
As to the Register's evident chuckling over the idea that the "Democratic party" has got into power in this Convention, and is going to keep power by means of it — we let it all pass for what it is worth. We are certainly not "Bourbons" in our distrust of the people, for we have an abiding confidence in their good sense, and in the correctness of their final judgement. It does not follow, that if pettifogging politicians have taken a "snap judgment" upon them and put even "three-fourths" (according to the Register's calculation) of Democratic partisans into the Convention, that they will always keep them there, or accept of anything whatever that these gentlemen may devise for the restoration of their party to power. Even with all that we have said against the doings of the Convention, we are of the opinion that we do not think quite as meanly of them as the Register does. We are not yet prepared to believe that "three-fourths" of that body will consider that they have no other business in the Convention than to do their work on "democratic principles," as the Register phrases it — by which it, of course, means that the members of the Convention are to forget everything like patriotism and statesmanship, and devote themselves to the low schemes of a small partisanship. But if the Register and its friends are bent upon this, and so perfectly confident that it "will win," and that they can carry the people with them — why they can just go on, and "we shall see what we shall see."