Charles Sumner’s Resolutions on the Theory of Secession and Reconstruction (1862)

(from McPherson (ed.), Political History of the Great Rebellion, p. 322)


Resolutions declaratory of the relations between the United States and the territory once occupied by certain states, and now usurped by pretended governments, without constitutional or legal right.

            Whereas certain States, rightfully belonging to the Union of the United States, have through their respective governments wickedly undertaken to abjure all those duties by which their connection with the Union was maintained; to renounce all allegiance to the Constitution; to levy war upon the national Government; and, for the consummation of this treason, have unconstitutionally and unlawfully confederated together, with the declared purpose of putting an end by force to the supremacy of the Constitution within their respective limits; and whereas this condition of insurrection, organized by pretended governments, openly exists in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia, except in Eastern Tennessee and Western Virginia, and has been declared by the President of the United States, in a proclamation duly made in conformity with an act of Congress, to exist throughout this territory, with the exceptions already named; and whereas the extensive territory thus usurped by these pretended governments and organized into a hostile confederation, belongs to the United States, as an inseparable part thereof, under the sanctions of the Constitution, to be held in trust for the inhabitants in the present and future generations, and is so completely interlinked with the Union that it is forever dependent thereon; and whereas the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, cannot be displaced in its rightful operation within this territory, but must ever continue to be the supreme law thereof, notwithstanding of the doings of any pretended governments acting singly or in confederation, in order to put an end to its supremacy: Therefore –

            Resolved, That any vote of secession or other act by which any State may undertake to put an end to the supremacy of the Constitution within its territory is inoperative and void against the Constitution, and when sustained by force it becomes a practical abdication by the State of all rights under the Constitution, while the treason which it involves still further works an instant forfeiture of all those functions and powers essential to the continued existence of the State as a body politic, so that from that time forward the territory falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress as other territory, and the State being, according to the language of the law, felo-de-se, ceases to exist.

            That any combination of men assuming to act in the place of such State, attempting to ensnare or coerce the inhabitants thereof into a confederation hostile to the Union is rebellious, treasonable, and destitute of all moral authority; and that such combination is a usurpation incapable of any constitutional existence and utterly lawless, so that every thing dependent upon it is without constitutional or legal support.

            That the termination of a State under the Constitution necessarily causes the termination of those peculiar local institutions which, having no origin in the Constitution or in those natural rights which exist independent of the Constitution, are upheld by the sole and exclusive authority of the State.

            That slavery, being a peculiar local institution, derived from local laws, without any origin in the Constitution or natural rights, is upheld by the sole and exclusive authority of the State, and must therefore cease to exist legally or constitutionally when the State on which it depends no longer exists; for the incident cannot survive the principal.

            That in the exercise of its exclusive jurisdiction over the territory once occupied by the States, it is the duty of Congress to see that the supremacy of the Constitution is maintained in its essential principles, so that everywhere in this extensive territory slavery shall cease to exist practically, as it has already ceased to exist constitutionally or legally.

            That any recognition of slavery in such territory, or any surrender of slaves under the pretended laws of the extinct States by any officer of the United States, civil or military, is a recognition of the pretended governments, to the exclusion of the jurisdiction of Congress under the Constitution, and is in the nature of aid and comfort to the rebellion that has been organized.

            That any such recognition of slavery or surrender of pretended slaves, besides being a recognition of the pretended governments, giving them aid and comfort, is a denial of the rights of persons who, by the extinction of the States, have become free, so that under the Constitution, they cannot again be enslaved.

            That allegiance from the inhabitant and protection from the Government are corresponding obligations, dependent upon each other, so that while the allegiance of every inhabitant of this territory, without distinction of color or class, is due to the United States, and cannot in anyway be defeated by the action of any pretended Government, or by any pretence of property or claim to service, the corresponding obligation of protection is at the same time due by the United States to every such inhabitant, without distinction of color or class; and it follows that inhabitants held as slaves, whose paramount allegiance is due to the United States, may justly look to the national Government for protection.

            That the duty directly cast upon Congress by the extinction of the States is reinforced by the positive prohibition of the Constitution that “no State shall enter into any confederation,” or “without the consent of Congress keep troops or ships-of-war in time of peace, or enter into any agreement or compact with another State,” or “grant letters of marque and reprisal,” or “coin money,” or “emit bills of credit,” or “without the consent of Congress lay any duties on imports or exports,” all of which have been done by these pretended governments, and also by the positive injunction of the Constitution, addressed to the nation, that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government;” and that in pursuance of this duty cast upon Congress, and further enjoined by the Constitution, Congress will assume complete jurisdiction of such vacated territory where such unconstitutional and illegal things have been attempted, and will proceed to establish therein republican forms of government under the Constitution; and in the execution of this trust will provide careful for the protection of all the inhabitants thereof, for the security of families, the organization of labor, the encouragement of industry, and the welfare of society, and will in every way discharge the duties of a just, merciful, and paternal Government.