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in conformity with the laws of God is presumptuously and impiously to exalt man even to equality with God. Clearly, human laws are not always in such conformity; nor can they ever be beyond question from each individual. Where the conflict is open, as if Congress should command the perpetration of murder, the office of conscience as final arbiter is undisputed. But in every conflict the same queenly office is hers. By no earthly power can she be dethroned. Each person, after anxious examination, without haste, without passion, solemnly for himself must decide this great controversy. Any other rule attributes infallibility to human laws, places them beyond question, and degrades all men to an unthinking, passive obedience.
According to St. Augustine, an unjust law does not appear to be a law: Lex esse non videtur quæe justa non fuerit. And the great Fathers of the Church, while adopting these words, declare openly that unjust laws are not binding. Sometimes they are called “iniquity," and not law, sometimes violences," and not laws.2 And here again the conscience of each person is final arbiter. But this lofty principle is not confined to the Church. Earlier than the Church, a sublime Heathen announced the same truth. After assailing indignantly that completest folly which would find the rule of justice in human institutions and laws, and then asking if the laws of tyrants are just simply because laws, Cicero declares, that, if edicts of popular assemblies, decrees of princes, and decisions of judges constitute right; then there may be a right to rob, a right to commit adultery, a right to set up forged wills; whereas he does not hesitate to say that pernicious and pestilent statutes can be no more entitled to the name of law than robber codes; and he concludes, in words as strong as those of St. Augustine, that an unjust law is null.1. A master of philosophy in early Europe, of intellectual renown, the eloquent Abelard, in Latin verses addressed to his son, clearly expresses the universal injunction:
1 De Libero Arbitrio, Lib. I. c. 5. See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1ma 2dæ, Quæst. XCVI. art. 4; also, Balmez, Protestantism and Catholicity compared in their Effects on the Civilization of Europe, Ch. 53.
2 Magis iniquitas quam lex, magis violentiæ quam leges. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., 1ma 2dæ, Quæst. XC. art. 1, XCVI. art. 4. The supreme duty to God is recognized in a text of St. Basil, Obediendum est in quibus mandatum Dei non impeditur, quoted by Filmer, Patriarcha, Ch. III. $ 3.
" Jussa potestatis terrenæ discutienda:
Cælestis tibi mox perficienda scias.
Te contra Dominum pactio nulla trahat.” 2 The mandates of an earthly power are to be discussed ; those of Heaven must at once be performed; nor should
1 De Legibus, Lib. I. capp. 15, 16; Lib. II. capp. 5, 6. The conclusion appears in the dialogue between Cicero and his brother Quintus.
“ MARC. Ergo est lex justorum injustorumque distinctio, ad illam antiquissimam et rerum omnium principem expressa naturam.
“ Quint. Præclare intelligo; nec vero jam aliam esse ullam legem puto non modo habendam, sed ne appellandam quidem."
Among moderns, the Abbé de Mably, in an elaborate discussion, adopts the conclusion of Cicero, as well as his treatment of it by dialogue, making his interlocutor, Lord Stanhope, ask, “What other remedy can be applied to this evil than disobedience?” and representing him as “pulverizing without difficulty the miserable commonplaces in opposition.” – Des Droits et des Devoirs du Citoyen, Lettre IV.: Euvres (Paris, 1797), Tom. XI. pp. 249,
Cicero was not alone among ancients in submission to an overruling law, nowhere pictured in greater sovereignty than by Sophocles, in a famous verse of the Edipus Tyrannus :
Μέγας εν τούτοις θεός, ουδε γηράσκει. - V. 845 .
Great in these laws is God, and grows not old. 2 Versus ad Astralabium Filium: Opera (ed. Cousin), Tom. I. pp. 341, 342.
we suffer ourselves to be drawn by any compact into opposition to God. Such is the rule of morals. Such, also, by the lips of judges and sages, is the proud declaration of English law, whence our own is derived. In this conviction, patriots have braved unjust commands, and martyrs have died.
And now, Sir, the rule is commended to us. The good citizen, who sees before him the shivering fugitive, guilty of no crime, pursued, hunted down like a beast, while praying for Christian help and deliverance, and then reads the requirements of this Act, is filled with horror. Here is a despotic mandate “to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law.” 1 Again let me speak frankly. Not rashly would I set myself against any requirement of law. This grave responsibility I would not lightly assume. But here the path of duty is clear. By the Supreme Law, which commands me to do no injustice, by the comprehensive Christian Law of Brotherhood, by the Constitution, which I have sworn to support, I AM BOUND TO DISOBEY THIS ACT. Never, in any capacity, can I render voluntary aid in its execution. Pains and penalties I will endure, but this great wrong I will not do. "Where I cannot , obey actively, there I am willing to lie down and to sutfer what they shall do unto me”: such was the exclamation of him to whom we are indebted for the “Pilgrim's Progress," while in prison for disobedience to an earthly statute. Better suffer injustice than do it. Better vic
1 Fugitive Slave Act, September 18, 1850, Sec. 5.
2 Relation of the Imprisonment of Mr. John Bunyan, written by Himself: Works (Glasgow, 1853), Vol. I. pp. 59, 60. Balmez, the Spanish divine, whose vindication of the early Catholic Church is a remarkable monument, declares, after careful discussion, that the rights of the civil power are limited, that there are things beyond its province, - cases in which a man may
tir than instrument of wrong. Better even the poor slave returned to bondage than the wretched Commissioner.
There is, Sir, an incident of history which suggests a parallel, and affords a lesson of fidelity. Under the triumphant exertions of that Apostolic Jesuit, St. Francis Xavier, large numbers of Japanese, amounting to as many as two hundred thousand, — among them princes, generals, and the flower of the nobility,--- were converted
, to Christianity. Afterwards, amidst the frenzy of civil war, religious persecution arose, and the penalty of death was denounced against all who refused to trample upon the effigy of the Redeemer. This was the Pagan law of a Pagan land. But the delighted historian records, that from the multitude of converts scarcely one was guilty of this apostasy. The law of man was set at nought. Imprisonment, torture, death, were preferred. Thus did this people refuse to trample on the painted image. Sir, multitudes among us will not be less steadfast in refusing to trample on the living image of their Redeemer.
say, and ought to say, I will not obey." (Protestantism and Catholicity Compared, Ch. 54.) Devices to avoid the enforcement of unjust laws illustrate this righteous disobedience, as where English juries, before the laws had been made humane, found an article stolen to be less than five shillings in value, in order to save the criminal from capital punishment. In the Diary of John Adams, December 14, 1779, at Ferrol, in Spain, there is a curious instance of law requiring that a convicted parricide should be headed up in a hogshead with an adder, a toad, a dog, and a cat, and then cast into the sea ; but in a case that had recently occurred the barbarous law was evaded by painting these animals on a hogshead containing the dead body of the criminal. (Works, Vol. III. p. 233.). In similar spirit, the famous President Jeannin, high in the magistracy and diplomacy of France, when called to a consultation on a mandate of Charles the Ninth, at the epoch of St. Bartholomew, said, “We must obey the sovereign slowly, when he commands in anger”; and he concluded by asking “letters patent before executing orders so cruel.” (Biographie Universelle, art. Jeannin (Pierre.) The remark of Casimir Périer, when Prime-Minister, to Queen Hortense, that it might be “ legal” for him to arrest her, but not "just," makes the same distinction. (Guizot, Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire de mon Temps, Tom. II. p. 219. See ante, Vol. II. pp. 398, 399.) The case is stated with perfect moderation by Grotius, when he says that human laws have a binding force only when they are made in a humane manner, not if they impose a burden which is plainly abhorrent to reason and Nature, — non si onus injungant quod a ratione et natura plane abhor
(De Jure Belli ac Pacis, Lib. III. Cap. XXIII. v. 3; also Lib. I. Cap. IV. vii. 2, 3.) These latter words aptly describe the “ burden” imposed by the Slave Act.
Finally, Sir, for the sake of peace and tranquillity, cease to shock the Public Conscience; for the sake of the Constitution, cease to exercise a power nowhere granted, and which violates inviolable rights expressly secured. Leave this question where it was left by our fathers, at the formation of our National Government, - in the absolute control of the States, the appointed guardians of Personal Liberty. Repeal this enactment. Let its terrors no longer rage through the land. Mindful of the lowly whom it pursues, mindful of the good men perplexed by its requirements, in the name of Charity, in the name of the Constitution, repeal this enactment, totally and without delay. There is the example of Washington ; follow it. There also are words of Oriental piety, most touching and full of warning, which speak to all mankind, and now especially to us: “Beware of the groans of wounded souls, since the inward sore will at length break out. Oppress not to the utmost a single heart; for a solitary sigh has power to overturn a whole world.”