Слике страница

tion, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people"; and since no powers are delegated to the United States in the clause relating to "privileges and immunities of citizens,” or in the associate clause of the same section, relating to the surrender of "persons held to service or labor," therefore all legislation by Congress, under either clause, must be an assumption of undelegated powers, and an infraction of rights secured to the States respectively, or to the people: and such, I have already said, is the Fugitive Slave Act.

[ocr errors]

I might go further, and, by the example of South Carolina, vindicate to Massachusetts, and every other State, the right to put such interpretation upon the fugitive" clause as it shall think proper. The Legislature of South Carolina, in a series of resolutions adopted in 1844, asserts the following proposition:

[ocr errors]

Resolved, That free negroes and persons of color are not citizens of the United States within the meaning of the Constitution, which confers upon the citizens of one State the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States." 1

Here is a distinct assumption of right to determine the persons to whom certain words of the Constitution are applicable. Now nothing can be clearer than this: If South Carolina may determine for itself whether the clause relating to the "privileges and immunities of citizens" be applicable to colored citizens of the several States, and may solemnly deny its applicability, then may Massachusetts, and every other State, determine for itself whether the other clause, relating to the surrender

1 Reports and Resolutions of the General Assembly of South Carolina, Sess. 1844, December 5, p 160.

of "persons held to service or labor," be really applicable to fugitive slaves, and may solemnly deny its applicability.

Mr. President, I have said enough to show the usurpation by Congress under the "fugitive" clause of the Constitution, and to warn you against abetting this usurpation. But I have left untouched those other outrages, many and great, which enter into the existing Fugitive Slave Act, among which are the denial of trial by jury, the denial of the writ of Habeas Corpus, the authorization of judgment on ex parte evidence without the safeguard of cross-examination, and the surrender of the great question of Human Freedom to be determined by a mere Commissioner, who, according to the requirement of the Constitution, is grossly incompetent to any such service. I have also left untouched the hateful character of this enactment, as a barefaced subversion of every principle of humanity and justice. And now, Sir, we are asked to lend ourselves anew to this enormity, worthy only of indignant condemnation ; we are asked to impart new life to this pretended law, this false Act of Congress, this counterfeit enactment, this monstrosity of legislation, which draws no life from the Constitution, as it clearly draws no life from that Supreme Law which is the essential fountain of life to every human law.

Sir, the bill before you may have the approval of Congress; and in yet other ways you may seek to sustain the Fugitive Slave Act. But it will be in vain. You undertake what no legislation can accomplish. Courts may come forward, and lend it their sanction. All this, too, will be in vain. I respect the learning of judges; I reverence the virtue, more than learning, by

which their lives are often adorned. Nor learning, nor virtue, when, with mistaken force, bent to this purpose, can avail. I assert confidently, Sir, and ask the Senate to note my assertion, that there is no court, howsoever endowed with judicial qualities or surrounded by public confidence, which is strong enough to lift this Act into permanent consideration or respect. It may seem for a moment to accomplish the feat. Its decision may be enforced, amidst tears and agonies. A fellow-man may be reduced anew to slavery. But all will be in vain. This Act cannot be upheld. Anything so entirely vile, so absolutely atrocious, would drag an angel down. Sir, it must drag down every court or judge venturing to sustain it.

And yet, Sir, in zeal for this enormity, Senators announce their purpose to break down the recent legislation of States, calculated to shield the liberty of the citizen. "It is difficult," says Burke," to frame an indictment against a whole people." But here in the Senate, where are convened the jealous representatives of the States, we hear whole States arraigned, as if already guilty of crime. The Senator from Louisiana [Mr. BENJAMIN], in plaintive tones sets forth the ground of proceeding, and more than one State is summoned to judgment. It would be easy to show, by critical inquiry, that this whole charge is without just foundation, and that all the legislation so much condemned is as clearly defensible under the Constitution as it is meritorious in purpose.

Sir, the only crime of these States is, that Liberty is placed before Slavery. Follow the charge, point by point, and this is apparent. In securing to every person claimed as slave the protection of trial by jury and the Habeas

Corpus, they simply provide safeguards strictly within the province of every State, and rendered necessary by the usurpation of the Fugitive Act. In securing the aid of counsel to every person claimed as slave, they but perform a kindly duty, which no phrase or word in the Constitution can be tortured to condemn. In visiting with severe penalties every malicious effort to reduce a fellowman to slavery, they respond to the best feelings of the human heart. In prohibiting the use of county jails and buildings as barracoons and slave-pens,—in prohibiting all public officers, holding the commission of the State, in any capacity, whether as Chief Justice or Justice of the Peace, whether as Governor or Constable, from any service as slave-hunter, -in prohibiting the volunteer militia of the State, in its organized form, from any such service, the States simply exercise a power under the Constitution, recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States even while upholding Slavery in the fatal Prigg case, by POSITIVE PROHIBITION, to withdraw its own officers from this offensive busi

[ocr errors]


For myself, let me say that I look with no pleasure on any possibility of conflict between the two jurisdictions of State and Nation; but I trust, that, if the interests of Freedom so require, the States will not hesitate. From the beginning of this controversy, I have sought, as I still seek, to awaken another influence, which, without the possibility of conflict, will be mightier than any Act of Congress or the sword of the National Government: I mean an enlightened, generous, humane, Christian public opinion, which shall blast with contempt, indignation, and abhorrence all who, in whatever form or under whatever name, undertake to be agents in

enslaving a fellow-man. Sir, such an opinion you cannot bind or subdue. Against its subtile, pervasive influence your legislation and the decrees of courts will be powerless. Already in Massachusetts, I am proud to believe, it begins to prevail; and the Fugitive Act there will soon be a dead letter.

Mr. President, since things are so, it were well to remove this Act from our statute-book, that it may no longer exist as an occasion of ill-will and a point of conflict. Let the North be relieved from this usurpation, and the first step will be taken towards permanent harmony. The Senator from Louisiana [Mr. BENJAMIN] has proclaimed anew to-night, what he has before declared on this floor, "that Slavery is a subject with which the Federal Government has nothing to do." I thank him for teaching the Senate that word. True, most true, Sir, ours is a Government of Freedom, having nothing to do with Slavery. This is the doctrine which I have ever maintained, and am happy to find recognized in form, if not in reality, by the Senator from Louisiana. The Senator then proceeded to declare that "all that the South asks is to be let alone." This request is moderate. And I say, for the North, that all we ask is to be let alone. Yes, Sir, let us alone. Do not involve us in the support of Slavery. Hug the viper to your bosoms, if you perversely will, within your own States, until it stings you to a generous remorse, but do not compel us to hug it too; for this, I assure you, we can never do.

The Senator from Louisiana, with these professions on his lips, proceeds to ask, doubtless with complete sincerity, but in strange forgetfulness of our country's history: "Did we ever bring this subject into Con

« ПретходнаНастави »