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bound by the indenture of his oath to be one." Nor, in this age of civilization and liberty, will any prudent reasoner, who duly considers the rights of conscience, claim for any earthly magistrate or tribunal, howsoever styled, a power which the loftiest monarch of a Christian throne, wearing on his brow “the round and top of sovereignty," dare not assert.
On this twofold conclusion I rest, and do not doubt the final result. The citizen who has sworn to support the Constitution is constrained to support it simply as he understands it. The citizen whose private life has kept him from assuming the obligations of official oath may bravely set at nought the unrighteous ruling of a magistrate, and, so doing, he will serve justice, though he expose himself to stern penalties.
Fellow-citizens of Massachusetts, our own local history is not without encouragement. In early colonial days, the law against witchcraft, now so abhorrent to reason and conscience, was regarded as constitutional and binding, - precisely as the Fugitive Slave Act, not less abhorrent to reason and conscience, is regarded as constitutional and binding. A special Court of Oyer and Terminer, with able judges, whose names are entwined with our history, enforced this law at Salem by the execution of nineteen persons as witches, — precisely as petty magistrates, acting under sanction of the Supreme Court of the United States, and also of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, have enforced the Fugitive Act by the reduction of two human beings to slavery. The clergy of Massachusetts, particularly near Boston, and also Harvard College, were for the law. “ Witchcraft," shouted Cotton Mather from the pulpit, “is the most nefandous high treason," "a capital crime,” — even as opposition to the Fugitive Act has been denounced as "treason.” [Laughter.]
But the law against witchcraft was not triumphant long. The General Court of the Province first became penitent, and asked pardon of God for "all the errors of his servants and people in the late tragedy." Jurymen united in condemning and lamenting the delusion to which they had yielded under the decision of the judges, and acknowledged that they had brought the reproach of wrongful bloodshed on their native land. Sewall, one of the judges, and author of the early tract against Slavery, "The Selling of Joseph,” whose name lives freshly in his liberty-loving descendant [Hon. S. E. SEWALL] [applause], stood up in his place at church, before the congregation, and implored the prayers of the people, that the errors he had committed might not be visited by the judgments of an avenging God on his country, his family, or himself. And now, in a manuscript diary of this departed judge, may be read, on the margin against the contemporary record, in his own handwriting, words of saddest interjection and sorrow : Væ! vo ! voe! Woe! woe! woe!! [Sensation.]
The parallel between the law against witchcraft and the Fugitive Act is not yet complete. It remains for our Legislature, successor of that original General Court, to lead the penitential march. [Laughter.] In the slave cases there have been no jurymen to recant [laughter] ; and it is too much, perhaps, to expect any magistrate who sanctioned the cruelty to imitate by public penitence the magnanimity of other days. Yet it is not impossible that future generations may be permitted to read, in some newly exhumed diary or letter by one of these troubled functionaries, words of woe not unlike those wrung from the soul of Sewall. [Sensation.]
1 Holmes, Annals, Vol. I. p. 440, note. In similar spirit, John Winthrop, the early Governor of Massachusetts, on his death-bed refused to sign an order to banish a heterodox person, saying, “I have done too much of that work already." - Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts, Vol. I. p. 142.
Fellow-citizens, one word in conclusion : Be of good cheer. [“ That's it !”] I know well the difficulties and responsibilities of the contest; but not on this account do I bate a jot of heart or hope. [Applause.] At this time, in our country, there is little else to tempt into public life an honest man, who wishes, by something that he has done, to leave the world better than he found it. There is little else to afford any of those satisfactions which an honest man can covet. Nor is there any cause which so surely promises final success. There is nothing good — not a breathing of the common air - which is not on our side. Ours, too, are those great allies described by the poet, —
“ Exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.” And there are favoring circumstances peculiar to the present moment. By the passage of the Nebraska Bill, and the Boston kidnapping case, the tyranny of the Slave Power is unmistakably manifest, while at the same time all compromises with Slavery are happily dissolved, so that Freedom stands face to face with its foe. The pulpit, too, released from ill-omened silence, now thunders for Freedom, as in the olden time. [Cheers.] It belongs to Massachusetts, nurse of the men and principles which made the earliest Revolution, to vow herself anew to her ancient faith, as she lifts herself to the great struggle. Her place now, as then, is in the van, at the head of the battle. [Sensation.] To sustain this advanced position with proper inflexibility, three things are needed by our beloved Commonwealth, in all her departments of government, -- the same three things which once, in Faneuil Hall, I ventured to say were needed by every representative of the North at Washington. The first is backbone [applause] ; the second is BACKBONE [renewed applause]; and the third is BACKBONE. [Long continued cheering, and three cheers for “ Backbone."] With these Massachusetts will be felt and respected, as a positive force in the National Government [applause], while at home, on her own soil, free at last in reality as in name [applause], all her people, from Boston islands to Berkshire hills, and from the sands of Barnstable to the northern line, will unite in THE GOOD FARMER AND THE GOOD CITIZEN.
“ No slave-hunt in our borders! no pirate on our strand !
No fetters in the Bay State! no slave upon our land!”
LETTER TO THE NORFOLK AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY,
SEPTEMBER 25, 1854.
ANOTHER voice against the Fugitive Slave Act.
Boston, September 25, 1854.
done me by the invitation of your Society, and also for the kind manner in which you have conveyed it. But another engagement promises to occupy my time so as to deprive me of the pleasure thus kindly offered.
From the mother earth we may derive many lessons, and I doubt not they will spring up abundantly in the footprints of the Norfolk Agricultural Society. There is one that comes to my mind at this moment, and which is of perpetual force.
The good farmer obeys the natural laws; nor does he impotently attempt to set up any behest of man against the ordinances of God, determining day and night, summer and winter, sunshine and rain. The good citizen will imitate the good farmer ; nor will he impotently attempt to set up any statute of man against the ordinances of God, which determine good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice. Let me express these correlative ideas in a sentiment which I trust may be welcome at your festival :