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county of Erie, that I should state to you my opinions, whatever may be their value, on the present condition of the country, its prospects, its hopes, and its dangers; and, fellow-citizens, I intend to do that, this day, and this hour, as far as my strength will permit.
Gentlemen, believe me, I know where I am. I know to whom I am speaking. I know for whom I am speaking. I know that I am here in this singularly prosperous and powerful section of the United States, Western New York, and I know the character of the men who inhabit Western New York. I know they are sons of liberty, one and all; that they sucked in liberty with their mothers' milk; inherited it with their blood; that it is the subject of their daily contemplation and watchful thought. They are men of unusual equality of condition, for a million and a half of people. There are thousands of men around us, and here before us, who till their own soil with their own hands; and others who earn their own livelihood by their own labor in the workshops and other places of industry; and they are independent, in principle and in condition, having neither slaves nor masters, and not intending to have either. These are the men who constitute, to a great extent, the people of Western New York. But the school-house, I know, is among them. Education is among them. They read, and write, and think. Here, too, are women, educated, refined, and intelligent; and here are men who know the history of their country, and the laws of their country, and the institutions of their country; and men, lovers of liberty always, and yet lovers of liberty under the Constitution of the country, and who mean to maintain that Constitution with all their strength. I hope these observations will sat
that I know where I am, under what responsibility I speak, and before whom I appear; and I have no desire that any word I shall say this day shall be withholden from you, or your children, or your neighbors, or the whole world; for I speak before you and before my country, and, if it be not too solemn to say so, before the great Author of all things.
Gentlemen, there is but one question in this country now; or, if there be others, they are but secondary, or so subordinate that they are all absorbed in that great and leading question; and that is neither more nor less than this: Can we preserve the union of the States, not by coercion, not by military power, not
by angry controversies; but can we of this generation, you and I, your friends and
my friends, can we so preserve the union of these States, by such administration of the powers of the Constitution as shall give content and satisfaction to all who live under it, and draw us together, not by military power, but by the silken cords of mutual, fraternal, patriotic affection? That is the question, and no other. Gentlemen, I believe in party distinctions. I am a party man. There are questions belong. ing to party in which I take an interest, and there are opinions entertained by other parties which I repudiate; but what of all that? If a house be divided against itself, it will fall, and crush every body in it. We must see that we maintain the government which is over us. We must see that we uphold the Constitution, and we must do so without regard to party.
Now how did this question arise? The question is for ever misstated. I dare say, if you know much of me, or of my course of public conduct, for the last fourteen months, you have heard of my attending Union meetings, and of my fervent admonitions at Union meetings. Well, what was the object of those meetings? What was their purpose? The object and purpose have been designedly or thoughtlessly misrepresented. I had an invitation, some time since, to attend a Union meeting in the county of Westchester; I could not go, but wrote a letter. Well, some wise man of the East said he did not think it was very necessary to hold Union meetings in Westchester. He did not think there were many disunionists about Tarrytown! And so in many parts of the country, there is a total misapprehension of the purpose and object of these Union mectings. Every one knows, that there is not a county, or a city, or a hamlet in the State of New York, that is ready to go out of the Union, but only some small bodies of fanatics. There is no man so insane in the State, not fit for a lunatic asylum, as to wish it. But that is not the point. We all know that every man and every neighborhood, and all corporations, in the State of New York, except those I have mentioned, are attached to the Union, and have no idea of withdrawing from it. But that is not, I repeat, the point. The question, fellow-citizens, (and I put it to you now as the real question,) the question is, Whether you and the rest of the people of the great State of New York, and of all the States, will so adhere to the Constitution, will so enact and main
tain laws to preserve that instrument, that you will not only remain in the Union yourselves, but permit your brethren to remain in it, and help to perpetuate it? That is the question. Will you concur in measures necessary to maintain the Union, or will you oppose
such measures ? That is the whole point of the case. There are thirty or forty members of Congress from New York; you have your proportion in the United States Senate. We have many members of Congress from New England. Will they maintain the laws that are passed for the administration of the Constitution, and respect the rights of the South, so that the Union may be held together; and not only so that we may not go out of it ourselves, which we are not inclined to do, but so that, by maintaining the rights of others, they may also remain in the Union ? Now, Gentlemen, permit me to say, that I speak of no concessions. If the South wish any concession from me, they will not get it; not a hair's breadth of it. If they come to my house for it, they will not find it, and the door will be shut; I concede nothing. But I say that I will maintain for them, as I will maintain for you, to the utmost of my power, and in the face of all danger, their rights under the Constitution, and your rights under the Constitution. And I shall never be found to falter in one or the other. It is obvious to every one, and we all know it, that the origin of the great disturbance which agitates the country is the existence of slavery in some of the States; but we must meet the subject; we must consider it; we must deal with it earnestly, honestly, and justly. From the mouth of the St. Johns to the confines of Florida, there existed, in 1775, thirteen colonies of English origin, planted at different times, and coming from different parts of England, bringing with them various habits, and establishing, each for itself, institutions entirely different from the institutions which they left, and in many cases from each other. But they were all of English origin. The English language was theirs, Shakspeare and Milton were theirs, the common law of England was theirs, and the Christian religion was theirs; and these things held them together by the force of a common character. The aggressions of the parent state compelled them to assert their independence. They declared independence, and that immortal act, pronounced on the 4th of July, 1776, made them independent.
That was an act of union by the United States in Congress assembled. But this act of itself did nothing to establish over them a general government. They had a Congress. They had Articles of Confederation to prosecute the war. But thus far they were still, essentially, separate and independent each of the other. They had entered into a simple confederacy, and nothing more. No State was bound by what it did not itself agree to, or what was done according to the provisions of the confederation. That was the state of things, gentlemen, at that time. The war went on; victory crowned the American arms; our independence was acknowledged. The States were then united together under a confederacy of very limited powers. It could levy no taxes. It could not enforce its own decrees. It was a confederacy, instead of a united government. Experience showed that this was insufficient and inefficient. Accord. ingly, beginning as far back almost as the close of the war, measures were taken for the formation of a united government, a government in the strict sense of the term, a government that could pass laws binding on the individual citizens of all the States, and which could enforce those laws by its executive powers, having them interpreted by a judicial power belonging to the government itself, and yet a government strictly limited in its nature. Well, Gentlemen, this led to the formation of the Constitution of the United States, and that instrument was framed on the idea of a limited government. It proposed to leave, and did leave, the different domestic institutions of the several States to themselves. It did not propose consolidation. It did not propose that the laws of Virginia should be the laws of New York, or that the laws of New York should be the laws of Massachusetts. It proposed only that, for certain purposes and to a certain extent, there should be a united government, and that that government should have the power of executing its own laws. All the rest was left to the several States.
We now come, Gentlemen, to the very point of the case. At that time slavery existed in the Southern States, entailed upon them in the time of the supremacy of British laws over us. There it was. It was obnoxious to the Middle and Eastern States, and honestly and seriously disliked, as the records of the country will show, by the Southern States themselves. Now, how was it to be dealt with? Were the Northern and Middle
States to exclude from the government those States of the South which had produced a Washington, a Laurens, and other distinguished patriots, who had so truly served, and so greatly honored, the whole country? Were they to be excluded from the new government because they tolerated the institution of slavery? Your fathers and my fathers did not think so. They did not see that it would be of the least advantage to the slaves of the Southern States, to cut off the South from all connection with the North. Their views of humanity led to no such result; and of course, when the Constitution was framed and established, and adopted by you, here in New York, and by New England, it contained an express provision of security to the persons who lived in the Southern States, in regard to fugitives who owed them service; that is to say, it was stipulated that the fugitive from service or labor should be restored to his master or owner if he escaped into a free State. Well, that had been the history of the country from its first settlement. It was a matter of common practice to return fugitives before the Constitution was formed. Fugitive slaves from Virginia to Massachusetts were restored by the people of Massachusetts. At that day there was a great system of apprenticeship at the North, and many apprentices at the North, taking advantage of circumstances, and of vessels sailing to the South, thereby escaped; and they were restored on proper claim and proof. That led to a clear, express, and well-defined provision in the Constitution of the country on the subject. Now I am aware that all these things are well known; that they have been stated a thousand times; but in these days of perpetual discontent and misrepresentation, to state things a thousand times is not enough; for there are persons whose consciences, it would seem, lead them to consider it their duty to deny, misrepresent, falsify, and cover
Now these are words of the Constitution, fellow-citizens, which I have taken the pains to transcribe therefrom, so that he who runs may
read:“ No PERSON HELD TO SERVICE OR LABOR IN ONE STATE, UNDER THE LAWS THEREOF, ESCAPING INTO ANOTHER, SHALL, IN CONSEQUENCE OF ANY LAW OR REGULATION THEREIN, BE DISCHARGED FROM SUCH SERVICE OR LABOR, BUT SHALL BE DELIVERED UP ON CLAIM OF THE PARTY TO WHOM SUCH SERVICE OR LABOR MAY BE DUE."