John Bingham’s Last Word on the Fourteenth Amendment?
One of my interesting finds in Cadiz is that John Bingham did, in fact, make a speech about the Fourteenth Amendment after he left Congress. In 1885, he returned to the United States after serving as our ambassador to Japan for 12 years. Not long after his return, he addressed a Republican rally and said the following:
“It gives me pride to know that the representatives of the Republican party—which is emphatically the party of the country, the party of the Constitution and the party of the Union—had the good sense and the patriotism in this contest to open it with the declaration that the guarantees of the Constitution (meaning these amendments that were put in the Constitution by Republican votes both in the Congress and in the Legislatures of the States) must be sacredly observed and zealously maintained . . .”
After explaining that the Democrats opposed the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees, he said that:
“The Constitution does not execute itself. It must be executed though laws. It must be executed through executive officers. It must be executed through judicial officers. And these guarantees of which I speak come home to the bosom of every man dwelling between the two oceans under the protection of the flag. It devolves on the State Legislature to see to it that the necessary laws are passed to carry out the effect of the Constitution of the United States; it devolves upon the Judges of the Supreme Court, in their final judgment in all cases affecting the guaranteed rights of citizens to see to it that the spirit of the amendments is respected and carried out.”
Finally, he concluded with:
“You want unity and harmony. So do I; so do all the Republicans in this land. There is nothing we desire so much. But we must have the Constitution of our land respected. We must have the guarantees which it secures all citizens respected and we must have them enforced.”
Cadiz Republican, Oct. 8, 1885. (The picture of Bingham is from 1893–I found it at the local historical society.)
Now this speech is very interesting but also very ambiguous. You could read Bingham’s remarks either an an attack on the construction of the Amendment up to that point (“It’s not being enforced properly”) or as a statement of satisfaction with the status quo (“We can’t let Democrats mess up the excellent ongoing enforcement”). Given Bingham’s views expressed in the 1860s and 1870s, the former reading seems more plausible, but we’ll see if I can find anything else that might support that assertion.