The civil authorities in this State having engaged in an organized rebellion against the Government of the United States, have, with the overthrow of the rebellion, ceased to exist, and the State, though in the Union, is without a civil government.
The Constitution of the United States declares that the United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion, insurrection, and domestic violence. In order to fulfil this guarantee and for the purpose of enabling the loyal people of this State to organize a State government, whereby justice may be established, domestic tranquillity insured, and loyal citizens protected in all their rights of life, liberty, and property, the President of the United States has appointed me Provisional Governor of the State, and mode it my duty, at the earliest practicable moment, to prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper for convening a convention composed of delegates to be chosen by that portion of the people of the State who are loyal to the United States, and no others, for the purpose of altering or amending the constitution of the State, and with authority to exercise within the limits of the State all the powers necessary and proper to enable the loyal people of the State to restore it to its constitutional relations to the Federal Government, and to present such a republican form of State government as will entitle the State to the guarantee of the United States therefor, and its people to protection by the United States against invasion, insurrection, and domestic violence.
In the performance of the duty thus enjoined upon me by the President, I shall, as soon as the people of the State have had the opportunity to qualify themselves to become voters, appoint an election, to be held in the different counties in the State, of delegates to a State convention to be convened at a time and place to be hereafter named.
The persons qualified to vote at such election of delegates and the persons eligible as members of such convention will be such persons as shall have previously taken and subscribed the oath of amnesty as set forth in the President's Proclamation of May 29, A. D. 1865, and as are also qualified as prescribed by the constitution and laws of the State in force immediately before the 11th day of January, 1861, the date of the so-called ordinance of secession. Where the person is excepted from the benefits of the amnesty proclamation, he must also have been previously specially pardoned by the President before he can become a qualified voter or eligible as a member of the convention. This interpretation of the two proclamations of the President I received from himself in person, and also from the Attorney-General.
The oath referred to may be administered by and taken and subscribed before any commissioned officer, civil, military, or naval, in the service of the United States, or any civil or military officer of a loyal State or Territory, who by the laws thereof is qualified to administer oaths. The officer administering the oath is authorized and required, on request, to give to the person taking it certified copies thereof.
In order to give to the well-disposed people of this State time and opportunity to qualify themselves to be voters for delegates to the convention, the election will not be held until a reasonable time has elapsed for them to take and subscribe the oath required, and to procure the special pardon where such pardon is a prerequisite qualification. The election will be held immediately thereafter, and no allowance will be made for unreasonable delays in applying for pardons.
Applications for pardon should be in writing, and addressed to the President of the United States, and state the ground on which a special pardon is considered as necessary. The application should have attached to it the original oath or affirmation contained in the proclamation of amnesty. In most cases the application for pardon will not be acted upon by the President until it has received the recommendation of the Provisional Governor. It will save time, therefore, to seek his recommendation in the first instance. The application should then be sent to the office of the Attorney-General.
I have been informed by the military authorities that a considerable number of posts have already been established in the State, and others soon will be, with officers attached, authorized to administer the oath required and to give certified copies thereof, so as thereby to give every facility for taking the oath, with little or no inconvenience or expense to the applicant.
In the mean time, and until the reestablishment of a State government, it is left to the military authorities to preserve peace and order, and protect the rights of persons and property.
An understanding has been had with the commander of the department whereby persons occupying the offices of judges of probate may continue to take proof of wills and issue letters testamentary and of administration, and clerks of circuit courts may take the proof or acknowledgment of deeds and mortgages and record the same as heretofore, and all persons occupying ministerial offices may continue to perform such duties and offices as are essential and convenient to the transaction of business. If any doubt should hereafter arise concerning the validity of their acts, such doubt can be removed by a legislative act of confirmation.
By the operations and results of the war slavery has ceased to exist in this State. It cannot be revived. Every voter for delegates to the convention in taking the amnesty oath takes a solemn oath to support the freedom of the former slave. The freedom intended is the full, ample, and complete freedom of a citizen of the United States. This does not necessarily include the privilege of voting. But it does include the idea or full constitutional guarantees of future possession and quiet enjoyment. The question of his voting is an open question—a proper subject for discussion—and is to be decided as a question of sound policy by the convention to be called.
Upon the establishment of a republican form of State government under a constitution which guarantees and secures liberty to all the inhabitants alike without distinction of color, there will no longer exist any impediment in the way of restoring the State to its proper constitutional relations to the Government of the United States, whereby its people will be entitled to protection by the United States against invasion, insurrection, and domestic violence.
Dated at Jacksonville, Florida, this 3d day of August, 1865.