Слике страница
PDF
ePub

for man is an imitative animal. .... The parent storms. The child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to the worst of passions, and, thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy, who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances.”] Nobody, who witnessed the Senator from South Carolina or the Senator from Virginia in this debate, will place either of them among the "prodigies described by Jefferson. As they spoke, the Senate Chamber must have seemed to them, in the characteristic fantasy of the moment, a plantation well-stocked with slaves, over which the lash of the overseer had free swing. Sir, it gives me no pleasure to say these things. It is not according to my nature. Bear witness that I do it only in just selfdefence against the unprecedented assaults and provocations of this debate. In doing it, I desire to warn certain Senators, that, if, by any ardor of menace, or by any tyrannical frown, they expect to shake my fixed resolve, they expect a vain thing.

There is little that fell from these two champions, as the fit was on, which deserves reply. Certainly not the hard words they used so readily and congenially. The veteran Senator from Virginia [Mr. MASON].complained that I had characterized one of his “constituents” – a person who went all the way from Virginia to Boston in pursuit of a slave -- as Slave-Hunter. Sir, I choose to call things by their right names. White I call white, and black I call black. And where a person degrades himself to the work of chasing a fellow-man, who, under the inspiration of Freedom and the guidance of the North Star, has sought a freeman's home far away from coffle and chain,—that person, whosoever he may be, I call Slave-Hunter. If the Senator from Virginia, who professes nicety of speech, will give me any term more precisely describing such an individual, I will use it. Until then, I must continue to use the language which seems to me so apt. But this very sensibility of the veteran Senator at a just term, truly depicting an odious character, shows a shame which pleases me. It was said by a philosopher of Antiquity that a blush is the sign of virtue; and permit me to add, that, in this violent sensibility, I recognize a blush mantling the cheek of the honorable Senator, which even his plantation manners cannot conceal.

1 Notes on Virginia, Query XVIII.

And the venerable Senator from South Carolina, too, [Mr. BUTLER,] - he has betrayed his sensibility. Here let me say that this Senator knows well that I always listen with peculiar pleasure to his racy and exuberant speech, as it gurgles forth, - sometimes tinctured by generous ideas, --- except when, forgetful of history, and in defiance of reason, he undertakes to defend what is obviously indefensible. This Senator was disturbed, when, to his inquiry, personally, pointedly, and vehemently addressed to me, whether I would join in returning a fellow-man to Slavery, I exclaimed: “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing ?” In fitful phrase, which seemed to come from unconscious excitement, so common with the Senator, he shot forth various cries about “dogs," and, among other things, asked if there was any “dog" in the Constitution? The Senator did not seem to bear in mind, through the heady currents of that moment, that, by the false interpretation he fastens upon the Constitution, he has helped to nurture there a whole kennel of Carolina bloodhounds, trained, with savage jaw and insatiable scent, for the hunt of flying bondmen. No, Sir, I do not believe that there is any “kennel of bloodhounds," or even any dog," in the Constitution.

But, Mr. President, since the brief response which I made to the inquiry of the Senator, and which leaped unconsciously to my lips, has drawn upon me such various attacks, all marked by grossness of language and manner, — since I have been charged with openly declaring a purpose to violate the Constitution, and to break the oath which I have taken at that desk, I shall be pardoned for showing simply how a few plain words will put all this down. The authentic report in the “Globe” shows what was actually said. The report in the “Sentinel" is substantially the same. And one of the New York papers, which has been put into my hands since I entered the Senate Chamber to-day, under its telegraphic head, states the incident with substantial accuracy, - though it omits the personal, individual appeal addressed to me by the Senator, and preserved in the “ Globe.” Here is the New York report.

“MR. BUTLER. I would like to ask the Senator, if Congress repealed the Fugitive Slave Law, would Massachusetts execute the Constitutional requirements, and send back to the South the absconding slaves ?

6 MR. SUMNER. Do you ask me if I would send back a slave?

MR. BUTLER. Why, yes. 6 MR. SUMNER. 'Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing ?'» 1

1 New York Daily Times, June 27, 1854.

To any candid mind, either of these reports renders anything further superfluous. The answer is explicit and above impeachment. Indignantly it spurns a service from which the soul recoils, while it denies no constitutional obligation. But Senators who are so swift in misrepresentation, and in assault upon me as disloyal to the Constitution, deserve to be exposed, and it shall be done.

Now, Sir, I begin by adopting as my guide the authoritative words of Andrew Jackson, in 1832, in his memorable veto of the Bank of the United States. To his course at that critical time were opposed the authority of the Supreme Court and his oath to support the Constitution. Here is his triumphant reply.

"If the opinion of the Supreme Court covered the whole ground of this Act, it ought not to control the coördinate authorities of this Government. The Congress, the Executive, , and the Court must, each for itself, be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution. Each public officer, who takes an oath to support the Constitution, swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others. It is as much the duty of the House of Representatives, of the Senate, and of the President, to decide upon the constitutionality of any bill or resolution which may be presented to them for passage or approval, as it is of the Supreme Judges, when it may be brought before them for judicial decision. .... The authority of the Supreme Court must not, therefore, be permitted to control the Congress or the Executive, when acting in their legislative capacities, but to have only such influence as the force of their reasoning may deserve.” 1

Mark these words : “Each public officer, who takes an oath to support the Constitution, swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others.” Yes, Sir, AS HE UNDERSTANDS IT, and not as it is understood by others. Does any Senator here dissent from this rule? Does the Senator from Virginia ? Does the Senator from South Carolina ? [Here Mr. Sumner paused, but there was no reply.] At all events, I accept the rule as just and reasonable, in harmony, too, let me assert, with that Liberty which scorns the dogma of passive obedience, and asserts the inestimable right of private judgment, whether in religion or politics. In swearing to support the Constitution at your desk, Mr. President, I did not swear to support it as you understand it, oh, no, Sir! or as the Senator from Virginia understands it, — by no means ! - or as the Senator from South Carolina understands it, with a kennel of bloodhounds, or at least a “dog” in it, pawing to get free his hinder parts,” in pursuit of a slave. No such thing. Sir, I swore to support the Constitution as I understand it, nor more, nor less.

1 Senate Journal, 22d Cong. 1st Sess., pp. 438, 439.

But Andrew Jackson was not alone in this rule of conduct. Statesmen before and since have declared it also, -- nobody with more force and constancy than Jefferson, who was, indeed, the author of it, so far as anybody can be the author of what springs so obviously from common sense. Repeatedly he returns to it, expressing it in various forms: “Each department,” he insists, “is truly independent of the others, and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the Constitution in the cases submitted to its action, and especially where it is to act ultimately and without appeal.”] I content myself with a single text from this

1 Letter to Judge Roane, Sept. 6, 1819: Writings, Vol. VII. p. 135. See also, p. 178, Letter to Mr. Jarvis, Sept. 28, 1820; and, Vol. VI. pp. 461, 462, Letter to W. H. Torrance, June 11, 1815.

« ПретходнаНастави »