Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Purpose of Alabama's Current Constitution

The Constitution of the State of Alabama, adopted in 1901, is the sixth constitution that state has had.  The purpose of establishing that Constitution?

From the second day of the 1901 Constitutional Convention: (emphasis added)

CHIEF JUSTICE McCLELLAN - Gentlemen of the Convention, I have the honor and pleasure of presenting to you the gentleman whom you have elected to preside over your deliberations, the Honorable John B. Knox of Calhoun County.

MR. KNOX - Gentlemen of the Convention:

I thank you for the high honor you have conferred in electing me to preside over the deliberations of this Convention. Viewed from the standpoint of my profession, to which, up to this moment, my life's work has been devoted, it is a great honor, indeed; for I know of no higher honor that can be conferred upon a lawyer than to be made President of the Constitutional Convention, which represents the sovereignty of his people; and numbers among its delegates, in large part, the intellect and talent of the State - those who have in the past, and will in the future exert a potent influence in shaping and directing the affairs of the State.

In my judgment, the people of Alabama have been called upon to face no more important situation than now confronts us, unless it be when they, in 1861, stirred by the momentous issue of impending conflict between the North and the South, were forced to decide whether they would remain in or withdraw from the Union.

Then, as now, the negro was the prominent factor in the issue.

The Southern people, with this grave problem of the races to deal with, are face to face with a new epoch in Constitution-making, the difficulties of which are great, but which, if solved wisely, may bring rest and peace and happiness. If otherwise, it may leave us and our posterity continuously involved in race conflict, or what may be worse, subjected permanently to the baneful influences of the political conditions now prevailing in the State.

So long as the negro remains in insignificant minority, and votes the Republican ticket, our friends in the North tolerate him with complacency, but there is not a Northern State, and I might go further and say, there is not an intelligent white man in the North, not gangrened by sectional prejudice and hatred of the South who would consent for a single day to submit to negro rule.

If the negroes of the South should move in such numbers to the State of Massachusetts, or any other Northern State, as would enable them to elect the officers, levy the taxes, and control the government and policy of that State, I doubt not they would be met, in spirit, as the negro laborers from the South were met at the State line of Illinois, with bayonets, led by a Republican Governor, and firmly but emphatically informed that no quarter would be shown them in that territory.

One has studied the history of recent events to very little purpose who has failed to discover that race prejudice exists at the North in as pronounced a form as at the South, and that the question of negro domination, when brought home, will arouse the same opposition in either section.

And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State.

This is our problem, and we should be permitted to deal with it, unobstructed by outside influences, with a sense of our responsibilities as citizens and our duty to posterity.
One might argue that the Alabama Constitution has been sufficiently amended that the original goal no longer applies.  One might also note that the thrust of American "promotion of democracy abroad" has often been not reforms of the target nation's political culture, but a revolution -- which leads to the question - why does that not apply to Alabama?   Should not Alabama at least hold another Constitutional Convention where, even if they vote to keep their Constitution as-is, they explicitly renounce the idea with which it was created?

I leave you with another gem from the same speech quoted above:
As stated by Judge Cooley, the right of suffrage is not a natural right, because it exists where it is allowed to be exercised only for the good of the State--to say that those whose participation in the affairs of the State would endanger and imperil the good of the State have nevertheless, the right to participate, is not only folly in itself, but it is to set the individual above the State.
Saddam Hussein (or Bashar al-Assad, or the US allies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc.)  could argue that they were following this policy;  they were allowing the right of suffrage only where it is to be allowed for the good of the State.