Georgia v. Stanton
Annotate this Case
73 U.S. 50 (1867)
U.S. Supreme Court
Georgia v. Stanton, 73 U.S. 6 Wall. 50 50 (1867)
Georgia v. Stanton
73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 50
1. A bill in equity filed by one of the United States to enjoin the Secretary of War and other officers who represent the Executive authority of the United States from carrying into execution certain acts of Congress on the ground that such execution would annul and totally abolish the existing state government of the state and establish another and different one in its place -- in other words, would overthrow and destroy the corporate existence of the state by depriving it of all the means and instrumentalities whereby its existence might and otherwise would be maintained -- calls for a judgment upon a political question, and will therefore not be entertained by this Court.
2. This character of the bill is not changed by the fact that in setting forth the political rights sought to be protected, the bill avers that the state has real and personal property (as for example, the public buildings &c), of the enjoyment of which, by the destruction of its corporate existence, the state will be deprived, such averment not being the substantive ground of the relief sought.
This was a bill filed April 15, 1867, in this Court, invoking the exercise of its original jurisdiction, against Stanton, Secretary of War; Grant, General of the Army, and Pope, Major General, assigned to the command of the Third Military District, consisting of the States of Georgia, Florida, and Alabama (a district organized under the Acts of Congress of the 2d March, 1867, entitled "An act to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel states," and an act of the 23d of the same month supplementary thereto), for the purpose of restraining the defendants from carrying into execution the several provisions of these acts, acts known in common parlance as the "Reconstruction Acts." Both these acts had been passed over the President's veto.
The former of the acts, reciting that no legal state governments or adequate protection for life or property now existed in the rebel States of Virginia and North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas, and that it was necessary that peace and good order should be enforced in them until loyal and republican state governments could be legally established, divided the states named into five military districts and
made it the duty of the President to assign to each one an officer of the army and to detail a sufficient military force to enable him to perform his duties and enforce his authority within his district. It made it the duty of this officer to protect all persons in their rights, to suppress insurrection, disorder, violence, and to punish or cause to be punished all disturbers of the public peace and criminals, either through the local civil tribunals or through military commissions, which the act authorized. It provided further that when the people of any one of these states had formed a constitution in conformity with that of the United States, framed by a convention of delegates elected by male citizens &c., of twenty-one years old and upwards, "of whatever race, color, or previous condition," who had been residents in it for one year, "except such as may be disfranchised for participation in the rebellion," &c., and when such constitution should provide &c., and should be ratified by a majority of the persons voting on the question of ratification, who were qualified for electors as delegates, and when such constitution should have been submitted to Congress for examination and approval, and Congress should have approved the same, and when the state by a vote of its legislature elected under such constitution should have adopted a certain article of amendment named to the Constitution of the United States, and ordaining among other things that
"all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the state where they reside,"
and when such article should have become a part of the Constitution of the United States, then that the states respectively should be declared entitled to representation in Congress and the preceding part of the act become inoperative, and that until they were so admitted, any civil governments which might exist in them should be deemed provisional only, and subject to the paramount authority of the United States at any time to abolish, modify, control, or supersede them.
The second of the two acts related chiefly to the registration of voters who were to form the new constitutions of the
states in question, and which registration by the act, could include only those persons who took and subscribed a certain oath set forth in such second act, as that they had "not been disfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States," &c.
The bill set forth the existence of the State of Georgia, the complainant, as one of the states of this Union under the Constitution; the civil war of 1861-1865 in which she was involved; the surrender of the Confederate armies in the latter year and submission to the Constitution and laws of the Union; the withdrawal of the military government from Georgia by the President, commander-in-chief of the army; and the revival and reorganization of the civil government of the state with his permission; and that the government thus reorganized was in the possession and enjoyment of all the rights and privileges in her several departments -- executive, legislative, and judicial -- belonging to a state in the Union under the Constitution, with the exception of a representation in the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.
It set forth further that the intent and design of the acts of Congress, as was apparent on their face and by their terms, was to overthrow and to annul this existing state government and to erect another and different government in its place, unauthorized by the Constitution and in defiance of its guarantees, and that, in furtherance of this intent and design, the defendants (the Secretary of War, the General of the Army, and Major General Pope), acting under orders of the President, were about setting in motion a portion of the army to take military possession of the state, and threatened to subvert her government and to subject her people to military rule; that the state was wholly inadequate to resist the power and force of the Executive Department of the United States. She therefore insisted that such protection could and ought to be afforded by a decree, or order, of this Court in the premises.
The bill then prayed that the defendants might be restrained:
1. From issuing any order or doing or permitting any act or thing within or concerning the State of Georgia which was or might be directed or required of them or any of them by or under the two acts of Congress.
2. From causing to be made any registration within the state as specified and prescribed in the last of the aforesaid acts.
3. From administering or causing to be administered within the state the oath or affirmation prescribed in said act.
4. From holding or causing to be held within the state any such election or elections or causing to be made any return of any such elections for the purpose of ascertaining the result of the same according to said act.
5. From holding or causing to be held within the state any such convention as is prescribed therein.
The bill, in setting forth the political rights of the State of Georgia, and of its people sought to be protected, averred among other things that the state was owner of certain real estate and buildings therein (the state capitol, at Milledgeville, and Executive mansion), and of other real and personal property, exceeding in value $5,000,000, and that putting the acts of Congress into execution and destroying the state would deprive it of the possession and enjoyment of its property. This reference and statement were not set up, however, as a specific or independent ground of relief, but apparently only by way of showing one of the grievances resulting from the threatened destruction of the state, and in aggravation of it. And the matter of property was not noticed in the prayers for relief.