The Proposed New Constitution.
To the People of the State of Illinois:
The Convention chosen by you for the purpose of altering and amending our present State Constitution has closed its labors, and its work is before you for your approval or condemnation. You are invited to carefully examine and weigh the following considerations in order the better to enable you to determine which course you will take.
Our present Constitution, adopted when we were just emerging from the embarrassments and financial disasters of 1841-2, has thus far elevated us to the very pinnacle of social and political prosperity; our noble State having far outstripped her sister States in wealth; and in the rapid development of every material interest. Up to the time of the meeting of the Convention no one supposed that a new Constitution was needed — some minor modifications were all that was asked for, and all that was expected of the delegates. In defiance of the plainly expressed will of the people the Convention has occupied nearly three months, at a great expense, in making almost an entirely new instrument, radically changing the present one in nearly every article. No reason has as yet been given, nor has any one attempted to explain why the wishes and expectations of the people have been thus disregarded.
If there were really any necessity, which there was not, for this entire change in our organic law, this is not the proper time for it. The country is convulsed with the throes of revolution — the public mind is wholly engrossed with the paramount questions, shall this country live? shall the rebellion be put down? shall the union of the States be preserved? We are in the midst of a stupendous civil war. It calls upon us as patriots for our money and our blood to sustain and prosecute it. Our fathers, brothers and sons are actually in the field — many have watered the soil of traitors with their life-blood — many have died and are dying in camps and hospitals. Events of such magnitude as the world never saw, bearing directly upon our dearest rights and interests, are transpiring daily around us. Is this a time to compel the people to stop and consider the merits of a new Constitution? When "candidly reviewed" it is not. Had the delegates possessed the wisdom and patriotism of our fathers, with the additional experience which three-fourths of a century brings with its teeming years, and produced an instrument as nearly perfect as possible, yet, because it must necessarily result in a civil revolution, unsettling those laws and usages which time has sanctioned, over-turning the old and approved, and substituting the new and untried, it would be a dangerous experiment, as unwise as impolite.
But even if the necessity existed, and this were the proper time to present it, the proposed Constitution, as we will proceed to show, is itself liable to the most serious and fatal objections.
The change in this department is radical. The jurisdiction of the county courts is materially enlarged and extended, even to criminal cases, and this without providing restrictions or limitations as to the manner of conducting suits. Said courts, instead of the circuit courts as heretofore, are to have exclusive appellate jurisdiction in all cases from justices courts. Although the old name "county court" is retained, in reality a new court is created. The present county judges are continued in office, notwithstanding the entire change in their duties, powers and jurisdiction — thus, nine-tenths of the litigation of our people must be prosecuted before men who were not elected for that purpose. As a general rule, county judges are not selected for their varied, extensive legal attainments, and this provision of the new Constitution is as much a disfranchisement of the people as if it had been provided that the present Auditor, Treasurer and Secretary of State should perform the duties of the supreme court until sometime in the future when new judges should be elected.
The change proposed in the new Constitution in reference to prosecutions in criminal cases under the grade of felony is most extraordinary. All offences not punishable by confinement in the penitentiary are to be prosecuted without the sanction or finding of a grand jury.
A county attorney or prosecutor is to be elected in every county, and the whole responsibility of prosecutions of this class of offenses is given to him. Can it be possible that the people of this State are prepared to surrender that great and time-honored safeguard of their rights, liberty and character — the grand jury. What shield or protection will be left to the citizens, if the grand jury is not retained, to protect him from the envenomed malice of any enemy who may find it convenient, at the cost of the people, to prosecute him.
A salutary check operations against the institution of groundless suits in civil causes, for the reason that the plaintiff is compelled to pay the cost of litigation, if unsuccessful. But there is no such check in criminal cases, and the only check hitherto existing was found in the grand jury, without whose indorsement and finding no man can be criminally prosecuted. Those who attack the grand jury seem to forget that it is a shield to the innocent, as well as terror to the guilty. In the solemn language of the oath enjoining their duties, they are not only "diligently to inquire into, and true presentment make" of all offenses, but "they are to present none through malice, hatred or ill will, nor are they to leave any unpresented through fear, favor and affection." This time-honored safeguard, equally for the protection of the community upon the one hand, and for the protection of the individual on the other, is stricken down by this constitution. The community upon the one hand, can have nobody prosecuted against the will of an irresponsible prosecuting attorney, whilst upon the other, every citizen is left to be annoyed and be deviled at will, by any man, at the public expense, who can make an instrument of the prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorney will be the tool of the party or active men who elect him. In Republican counties nobody will be prosecuted but Democrats, and in Democratic counties, nobody will be prosecuted but Republicans.
The sturdy sense of the people will repudiate innovation. They will never consent to place in such irresponsible hands such a might engine for mischief. This consideration alone, leaving out of view the immense cost it will entail, but the great multiplicity of this class of prosecutions, which are thus left without check, should condemn this Constitution. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to calculate the immense additional cost to the public of such a mode of conducting prosecutions. It is to be borne in mind that a standing jury of at least two panel (twenty-four jurymen) must be given to the county court. From the character of business given to this court, it will inevitably, in a majority of the counties, be in session half the time during the year. Let the pay of these jurymen and their mileage be added, and it will be found to amount to nearly five hundred thousand dollars a year for the State, or five thousand dollars for each county, besides the cost of the jury in the circuit court. Add to this, also, the additional costs paid to the sheriff and county clerk.
A great many suits involving small amounts growing out of honest misunderstandings between our citizens have heretofore been settled, at trifling cost, before our justices. Organize such a court as this in every county, and the result will be that justices of the peace at county seats may as well resign their officers. Every five dollar case will have to be tried in the county court, and the costs for jury, clerk, etc., will exceed the amount in dispute.
An insurmountable objection to the proposed Constitution arise forth its failure to fix the salaries and compensation of public officers, or in limiting in any way the action of the Legislature in this respect. Why was this done? Was it because the members, many of them, office seekers themselves, and being in favor of high salaries, thought it safer to trust the Legislature, in which they probably hoped to act, being afraid to trust the people? Such unquestionably was the fact.
An estimate of the expenses of the State government under this proposed, as compared with the present Constitution, taking the compensation of offices at the lowest figures proposed by any delegate in the Convention, and which is certainly as low as any Legislature will provide, is herewith submitted:
|UNDER OLD CONSTITUTION.||UNDER NEW CONSTITUTION|
|100 members of legislature, at $2 per diem; 42 days||$8,400||135 members of Legislature, at $8 per day, say 75 days||$30,875|
|Secretary of State||[unknown]||Attorney General||2,500|
|Auditor||[unknown]||Secretary of State||2,500|
|Supt. Public Schools||[unknown]||Treasurer||2,500|
|28 Prosecuting Attorney at $500||14,000||Supt. Public Schools||2,000|
|28 Circuit Judges at $1,000||28,000||102 County Attorneys, at $500||51,000|
|102 County Judges, paid by county. $3 per diem for time actually employed, say, 75 days||22,950||16 Circuit Judges, at $2,500||40,000|
|3 Supreme Judges||[unknown]||102 County Judges, whose time will be exclusively employed and who will be paid not less than||102,000|
|2 Supreme Judges||5,000|
The entire tax levied and collected for revenue purposes in 1861, from which all salaries and the entire expenses of carrying on the State Government, are paid, only amounted to $166,000. After deducting the expense of collection, forfeitures, etc., the revenue fund will be found to net much less than $150,000.
Thus it will be seen that it is proposed to saddle upon the people a form of State government which in the single item of salaries and compensation will be three times as expensive as our present one and this at a time when the business and financial interests of our State are prostrated by civil war, and the consequent collapse of our banking system, and when we are called upon by the General Government to pay a heavy direct tax.
The reasoning adopted in the address (submitted with the Constitution) possesses the merit of candor at last. It is this, that because the Legislature has been heretofore compelled "by indirection and subterfuge to accomplish what could not be constitutionally done by direct legislation" therefore, it was thought best to take away all constitutional restriction, and let the Legislature plunder as much as it pleased without limitations. This is what one member has termed "putting the bars up" with a vengeance! This amendment may be satisfactory to the delegates, but will hardly be so with the people. It is further stated in this address, that, "the whole system is intended to so operate as to prevent any officer having a voice even indirectly in determining his own compensation." Let us see. If adopted, the State officers and the members of the Legislature go into office at the same time — the compensation of the officers is dependent upon the Legislature — the action of the Legislature is dependent upon the State officers, especially upon the Governor who has the veto power. Result — a continual wrangle and controversy between the co-ordinate branches, or what is most probably, extravagant salaries will be voted, at the first session of the Legislature, every member will have at least two officers an indirect voice, at least, in fixing his own salaries.
All this and much more can be said against the proposed system, and in favor of the plan of fixing at least a limit in the constitution beyond which the Legislature cannot go. Choose ye which plan you ought to adopt.
The proposed Constitution provides for 135 members of the Legislature at $3 per diem (instead of 100 as now at $2), and does not limit the duration of its session as at present — thus again increasing the public burdens by an increase of members, and pay, and by leaving the Legislature perfectly free to prolong its session for months which every one knows, and the experience of this and every other State proves, will be done.
It is claimed that the members of the Legislature have voted themselves large sums in the way of "perquisites," yet, although it is admitted in the address that this was contrary to the spirit and provisions of the present Constitution, it is especially provided in the one proposed, that stationery shall be furnished at the expense of the State to each member of the Legislature, and every one knows that stationery in legislative parlance means gold pencils, pen-knives and the like — thus opening the way by actual provision for the very abuses which the present constitution does not permit, and which the Convention was especially called upon to correct.
The principal change made in this department is in shortening the term of all State officers to two years. This is totally uncalled for, and no reason is even alleged for it. In every other instance the terms of office are left as they are now, or have been extended. It is impossible to conceive why a departure from the general rule should be made in this case. The duties of all these officers are so complicated, involving as much care, routine and watchfulness, that no one in two years can become sufficiently familiar with his duties to discharge them so well as under the present system. It also multiplies elections and partisan contests for State officers, which ought to be avoided rather than encouraged.
The Congressional apportionment by the Convention, aside from any partisan view, is a plain and palpable violation of the Constitution of the United States, which provides that the Legislatures of the States shall perform this duty. Will the people indorse such a violation of the Constitution of the United States?
In vacating the offices of Governor, Auditor and Secretary of State, providing that all other officers who were elected at the same time and since for four years, shall be retained, the Constitution makes an unjust discrimination wholly unprecedented and unworthy the countenance of a free people desiring to act fairly between man and man. When it is considered that these officers came into power at a crisis unparalleled in the history of our State — a civil war just breaking out — our State threatened with invasion — the whole country excited and alarmed — every element of society disturbed — and when it is further considered what untiring efforts have been made by these officer, under the direction and control of an in harmony with the Governor, to assist the Government of our country in putting down rebellion, when it is considered that, above all the other States in the Union, our own dear Illinois stands pre-eminent in the raising and equipping her gallant soldiers for the field, her own brave sons who have won immortal honors on every bloody field — her own brave sons, no covered with deathless renown. When these things are all considered, the conclusion is forced upon us, that there must have been some reason on the part of the majority of the delegates, which they have not avowed, for the passage of this implied censure on the highest executive officers in the State. The only reason is that the strenuous exertions made by our State to aid the Federal Government in this war against the traitors who are seeking its destruction do not command their approbation and support. Leaving out of view their gross assumptions of power, claiming the right to elect a United States Senator and to enact laws, descending even to acts of special legislation, the fact of their attempting to cast odium upon the Governor, accusing him of exceeding appropriations in his expenditures for the benefit of volunteers, seeking to divert his attention from his pressing and most faithfully discharged duties, by their confessedly futile assaults, all this in connection with the fact that they failed to indorse the State or General Government in their mighty efforts against the rebels gives additional weight to this conclusion. Let the country judge. The foregoing are but a few of the many objections to the new Constitution which might be enumerated.
Some considerable credit is claimed by the delegates because they have provided that the soldiers shall be permitted to vote on their work. No argument was needed to prove that some provision of this kind is equally proper and necessary. Let us now see how much our soldiers are indebted to this convention for their pretended liberality and kind consideration. Instead of appointing men from their own organization, with interests identical with their own, as was at first proposed, the convention appointed three civilians, two of whom are delegates, who are to look up the soldiers at the different camps, at unseasonable times and places, with a sort of perambulating ballot box under their own control. The commissioners are to start in twenty days — the new constitution in not required to be printed and distributed until thirty days after the adjournment of the Convention. Our camps are widely separated. Some in Virginia, some in Maryland, some in Kentucky and Illinois, Tennessee and Alabama, Missouri and Arkansas. What opportunity these soldiers thus moving about will have to examine the Constitution, and decide upon its merits in the time given for the votes to be taken, which is much less than is given to voters at home, and how far these inestimable judtes will get around with their inestimable privileges in their pockets are problems which are left to our kindly cared for soldiers to solve at their leisure. And further, while pretending to allow the soldiers to vote for the Constitution, they utterly deny them the privilege of voting for State officers, or members of Congress under it.
Again it is claimed for this Constitution, in the language of one of the Delegates, that it is the poor man's and poor woman's Constitution, because of its provisions for a mechanic's lien, and for certain rights of married women and for a homestead exemption law. The perfect demagogism of this pretended claim, is apparent, when it is considered that every one of these rights and advantages are secured by the laws of this State now in force, and the Constitution does not pretend to define or enlarge existing rights, but only vaguely declares it the duty of the Legislature to do what has already been done. If its friends can say nothing better in its favor than this, they will find it difficult to convince the people of its superior merits. So is it with the two mill tax, which is now inoperative by law, and by general consent. Not a single benefit is claimed under the new instrument but what already exists under the old, or may be secured by act of the Legislature. Any advantage claimed on the score of economy, is entirely chimerical, and based upon false estimates, as has been already shown. The salaries alone under the new constitution exceeding the entire assessment for revenue purposes under the old.
Sufficient has already been shown, it is believed, to justify the unqualified condemnation of the proposed new Constitution. If any other reason is needed, it will be found in the fact that by its adoption the State will be put to the expense of an election for State officers, and the public mind, already sufficiently employed on national affairs, will be again convulsed — partisan strife again arrayed, old animosities, supposed to be buried and laid aside, revived — thus tending to separate our fellow citizens, and keep them apart at a time when all should act together, when there should be no party contests, no division, no strife, except against the enemies of our common country, that its institutions may be preserved, and the blessings of a free, happy and united people, perpetuated.