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the national soul, the national will, the national voice, which must inspire our interpretation of the Constitution, entering into all the national legislation and spreading through all its parts. Thus again is Freedom national.
Fourthly. Beyond these is a principle of the Common Law, clear and indisputable, a supreme rule of interpretation, from which in this case there can be no appeal. In any question under the Constitution every word must be construed in favor of Liberty. This rule, which commends itself to the natural reason, is sustained by time-honored maxims of early jurisprudence. Blackstone aptly expresses it, when he says that "the law is always ready to catch at anything in favor of Liberty."1
The rule is repeated in various forms. Favores ampliandi sunt; odia restringenda: "Favors are to be amplified ; hateful things to be restrained.” Lex Angliæ est lex misericordiæ: “The law of England is a law of mercy.” Angliæ jura in omni casu Libertati dant favorem : “The laws of England in every case show favor to Liberty." And this sentiment breaks forth in natural, though intense force, in the maxim, Impius et crudelis judicandus est qui Libertati non favet : “He is to be adjudged impious and cruel who does not favor Liberty." Reading the Constitution in the admonition of these rules, Freedom, again I say, is national.2
1 Commentaries, Vol. II. p. 94.
2 These maxims are enforced with beautiful earnestness in a tract which appeared at Baltimore shortly after the adoption of the Constitution, with the following title-page: “ Letter from Granville Sharp, Esq., of London, to the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes and others unlawfully held in Bondage. Published by Order of the Society. Baltimore : Printed by D. Graham, L. Yundt, and W. Patton, in Calvert Street, near the Court-House. M.DCC.XCIII.”
Fifthly. From a learned judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, in an opinion of the Court, we derive the same lesson. In considering the question, whether a State can prohibit the importation of slaves as merchandise, and whether Congress, in the exercise of its power to regulate commerce among the States, can interfere with the slave-trade between the States, a principle was enunciated, which, while protecting the trade from any intervention of Congress, declares openly that the Constitution acts upon no man as property. Mr. Justice McLean says: “If slaves are considered in some of the States as merchandise, that cannot divest them of the leading and controlling quality of persons, by which they are designated in the Constitution. The character of property is given them by the local law. This law is respected, and all rights under it are protected, by the Federal authorities; but the Constitution acts upon slaves as PERSONS, and not as property. The power over Slavery belongs to the States respectively. It is local in its character, and in its effects.” 1 Here again Slavery is sectional, while Freedom is national.
Sir, such, briefly, are the rules of interpretation, which, as applied to the Constitution, fill it with the breath of Freedom,
“Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt." ?
To the history and prevailing sentiments of the times we may turn for further assurance. In the spirit of Freedom the Constitution was formed. In this spirit our fathers always spoke and acted. In this spirit the
1 Groves et al. v. Slaughter, 15 Peters, 507, 508. 2 Milton, Comus, 456.
National Government was first organized under Washington. And here I recall a scene, in itself a touchstone of the period, and an example for us, upon which we may look with pure national pride, while we learn anew the relations of the National Government to Slavery:
The Revolution was accomplished. The feeble Government of the Confederation passed away. The Constitution, slowly matured in a National Convention, discussed before the people, defended by masterly pens, was adopted. The Thirteen States stood forth a Nation, where was unity without consolidation, and diversity without discord. The hopes of all were anxiously hanging upon the new order of things and the mighty procession of events. With signal unanimity Washington was chosen President. Leaving his home at Mount Vernon, he repaired to New York, -- where the first Congress had commenced its session, — to assume his place as elected Chief of the Republic. On the 30th of April, 1789, the organization of the Government was completed by his inauguration. Entering the Senate Chamber, where the two Houses were assenbled, he was informed that they awaited his readiness to receive the oath of office. Without delay, attended by the Senators and Representatives, with friends and men of mark gathered about him, he moved to the balcony in front of the edifice. A countless multitude, thronging the open ways, and eagerly watching this great espousal,
"With reverence look on his majestic face,
Proud to be less, but of his godlike race.” 1 The oath was administered by the Chancellor of New
1 Dryden, Epistle XVI. [XIV.), To Sir Godfrey Kneller.
York. At such time, and in such presence, beneath the unveiled heavens, Washington first took this vow upon his lips : "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Over the President, on this new occasion, floated the national flag, with its stripes of red and white, its stars on a field of blue. As his patriot eye rested upon the glowing ensign, what currents must have rushed swiftly through his soul! In the early days of the Revolution, in those darkest hours about Boston, after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and before the Declaration of Independence, the thirteen stripes had been first unfurled by him, as the emblem of Union among the Colonies for the sake of Freedom. By him, at that time, they had been named the Union Flag. Trial, struggle, and war were now ended, and the Union, which they first heralded, was unalterably established. To every beholder these memories must have been full of pride and consolation. But, looking back upon the scene, there is one circumstance which, more than all its other associations, fills the soul, - more even than the suggestions of Union, which I prize so much. AT THIS MOMENT, WHEN WASHINGTON TOOK HIS FIRST OATH TO SUPPORT THE CON
THE UNITED STATES, THE NATIONAL ENSIGN, NOWHERE WITHIN THE NATIONAL TERRITORY,
Then, indeed, was Slavery Sectional, and Freedom National.
On the sea an execrable piracy, the trade in slaves, to the national scandal, was still tolerated under the national flag. In the States, as a sectional institution, beneath the shelter of local laws, Slavery unhappily
COVERED A SINGLE SLAVE.
found a home. But in the only territories at this time belonging to the nation, the broad region of the Northwest, it was already made impossible, by the Ordinance of Freedom, even before the adoption of the Constitution. The District of Columbia, with its Fatal Dowry, was not yet acquired.
The government thus organized was Antislavery in character. Washington was a slaveholder, but it would be unjust to his memory not to say that he was an Abolitionist also. His opinions do not admit of question. Only a short time before the formation of the National Constitution, he declared, by letter, that it was
among his first wishes to see some plan adopted by which Slavery in this country might be abolished by law”;1 and again, in another letter, that, in support of any legislative measure for the abolition of Slavery, his suffrage should“ never be wanting ";2 and still further, in conversation with a distinguished European Abolitionist, a travelling propagandist of Freedom, Brissot de Warville, recently welcomed to Mount Vernon, he openly announced, that, to promote this object in Virginia, "he desired the formation of a SOCIETY, and that he would second it.” 3 By this authentic testimony. he takes his place with the early patrons of Abolition Societies.
By the side of Washington, as, standing beneath the national flag, he swore to support the Constitution, were illustrious men, whose lives and recorded words now
1 Letter to John F. Mercer, September 9, 1786: Writings, ed. Sparks, Vol. IX. p. 159, note.
2 Letter to Robert Morris, April 12, 1786: Writings, ed. Sparks, Vol. IX.
3 Brissot de Warville, New Travels in the United States, 2d ed., Vol. I. pp. 246, 247.