September 24, 1861: New York Times publishes Magoffin veto message

Beriah Magoffin
Beriah Magoffin

From the New York Times:

The following message was sent in to the Kentucky House of Representatives on Sept. 20:
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

I lose no time in returning to you the accompanying resolutions, which were passed by both branches of the Legislature, and which have just been received, with my objections to them becoming a law of the State. It is not consistent with my ideas of the functions of an Executive officer, or the duties of a citizen of the Commonwealth to throw any factious obstacles in the way of the Legislative departments. I recognize its constitutional powers, and in exercising my own under a conscientious sense of duty, will do nothing by action or non-action to repress the policy of the law-making department of the State Government. But my conscience under my oath of office requires me to withhold my sanction from the resolutions submitted for my approval.

I object to them because they propose to expel only one of the belligerent powers which have invaded the soil of Kentucky, and both of which have violated the declared neutrality of the State. Each jealous and distrustful of the other, justifies its action upon what the other did or intended to do. Each I think manifest a willingness to withdraw from our soil if the other will. Is there anything inconsistent then with our dignity and honor in view of the frightful consequences of plunging into this war, and the relations Kentucky, as a member of the Union, bears to the Federal Government, in the Legislature requesting that Government to withdraw its troops simultaneously with the withdrawal of the Confederate troops, with guarantees that neither party will occupy them hereafter. By doing this even yet, in my humble judgment, the peace and neutrality of the State can be preserved.

I object to these resolutions, secondly, because they needlessly invite a military officer in the National service to take command of the Department of Cumberland, embracing Kentucky, who will not be bound by the expressions of your resolutions, but will be required to obey the orders of the National Government whether they be consistent with your resolutions or not, and whose powers will not be limited by any act of the legislature. There is no man in the National service in whose personal or professional honor I have more confidence than the distinguished native Kentuckian whom your resolutions invite here. From a long personal acquaintance with him, I do not doubt that he would perform his delicate and painful duties as a gentleman, soldier and Christian should do; but he is a subordinate, bound to obey the commands of superiors, who have even themselves acknowledged that they have violated the Constitution and laws in prosecuting this deplorable fratricidal war, and asked Congress to indemnify them for the violation.

I object to them, thirdly, because they interpose a Federal officer between me and the officer of the State Guard, designated to carry out their policy. These are State troops, proposed to be raised for State purposes, and I cannot concede the right of the Legislature to take from me my command, or to interpose a Federal officer between me as the Commander-in-Chief, under the Constitution of my State, and my Executive agent, in conformity to the laws of the State. Those troops of the State, to resist the invasion of the State, and for its protection, surely ought, in my judgment, to be raised under the Constitution and laws of Kentucky, and be officered according to them. If mustered into the service of the United States, then, and not until then, would they, or ought they, to be under a Federal commander. Which of these officers will out-rank the other?

I cannot concede my constitutional right as the Commander-in-Chief of the State to designate the particular officer or officers to be employed in executing the will of the Legislature. Gen. T.L. CRITTENDEN, the officer designated by the resolution, has had many proofs of my confidence. He has my confidence now, and in this service I would not hesitate to employ him, but at the same time I reserve the point that it is not within the province of the Legislature to limit the constitutional right of the Governor and Commander-in-Chief to choose such of his subordinate officers as he may deem best fitted to enforce the execution of the laws of the State.

I very heartily approve the resolution which declares that “no citizen shall be molested on account of his political opinions, and that no citizens property shall be taken or confiscated, because of such opinions, nor shall any slave be set free by any military commander; and that all peaceable citizens and their families are entitled to, and shall receive the fullest protection of the Government in the enjoyment of their lives, their liberties and their property.” This is a just and noble resolve of the Legislature, but in the same series of resolutions in which it is found, an invitation is given to the Federal authorities to assume command in this State; and while I do not doubt that Gen. ANDERSON, acting upon his own judgment and according to his own conscience, would strictly carry out this resolution in good faith, he is subject to the orders of his superior, and it cannot be denied that in other States the rights which your resolution intended to secure have not been respected. These objections seem to me sufficient to justify my withholding my approval to the resolutions. And I will only add, that I adhere to the views of my general message at the opening of your session, and of my subsequent message vetoing an act of the two Houses, which, notwithstanding my objections, I have faithfully executed, as I shall faithfully execute every other act which may be constitutionally enacted by the Legislature. B. MAGOFFIN.

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