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curred in everywhere, by every State that adopted the Constitution; and we look in vain for any opposition to it, from Massachusetts to Georgia.
This, then, being the case, this being the provision of the Constitution, it was found necessary, in General Washington's time, to pass a law to carry that provision of the Constitution into effect. Such a law was prepared and passed. It was prepared by a gentleman from a Northern State. It is said to have been drawn up by Mr. Cabot, of Massachusetts. It was supported by him, and by Mr. Goodhue, and by Mr. Sedgwick, of Massachusetts, and generally by all the free States. It passed without a division in the Senate, and with but seven votes against it in the House. It went into operation, and for a time it satisfied the just rights and expectations of every body. That law provided that its enactments should be carried into effect mainly by State magistrates, justices of the peace, judges of State courts, sheriffs, and other organs of State authority. So things went on, without loud complaints from any quarter, until some fifteen years ago, when some of the States, the free States, thought it proper to pass laws prohibiting their own magistrates and officers from executing this law of Congress, under heavy penalties, and refusing to the United States authorities the use of their prisons for the detention of persons arrested as fugitive slaves. That is to say, these States passed acts defeating the law of Congress, as far as it was in their power to defeat it. Those of them to which I refer, not all, but several, nullified the law of 1793 entirely. They said, in effect, “ We will not execute it. No runaway slave shall be restored.” Thus the law became a dead letter, an entire dead letter. But here was the constitutional compact, nevertheless, still binding; here was the stipulation, as solemn as words could form it, and which every member of Congress, every officer of the general government, every officer of the State governments, from governors down to constables, is sworn to support. Well, under this state of things, in 1850, I was of opinion that common justice and good faith called upon us to make a law, fair, reasonable, equitable, and just, that should be calculated to carry this constitutional provision into effect, and give the Southern States what they were entitled to, and what it was intended originally they should receive, that is, the fair, right, and reasonable means to recover
their fugitives from service from the States into which they had fled. I was of opinion that it was the bounden duty of Congress to pass such a law. The South insisted they had a right to it, and I thought they properly so insisted. It was no concession, no yielding of any thing, no giving up of any thing. When called on to fulfil a compact, the question is, Will you fulfil it? And, for one, I was ready. I said, " I will fulfil it by any fair and reasonable act of legislation.”
Now, the law of 1850 had two objects, both of which were accomplished. First, it was to make the law more favorable for the fugitive than the law of 1793. It did so, because it called for a record, under seal, from a court in the State from which the fugitive came, proving the fact that he was a fu. gitive, so that nothing should be left, when pursued into a free State, but to produce the proof of his identity. Besides this, it secured a higher tribunal, and it placed the power in more responsible hands. The judges of the Supreme and District Courts of the United States, and learned persons appointed by them as commissioners, were to see to the execution of the law. It was, accordingly, a law more favorable, in all respects, to the fugitive, than the law passed under General Washing. ton's administration in 1793. The second object was to carry the constitutional provision into effect by the authority of law, seeing that the States had prevented the execution of the former law.
Now, let me say that this law has been discussed, considered, and adjudged in a great many of the tribunals of the country. It has been the subject of discussion before judges of the Supreme Court of the United States; the subject of discussion before courts the most respectable in the States. Everywhere, on all occasions, and by all judges, it has been held to be, and pronounced to be, a constitutional law. So say Judges Grier, McLean, Nelson, Woodbury, and all the rest of the judges, as far as I know, on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States. This is the opinion of Massachusetts herself, expressed by as good a court as ever sat in Massachusetts, its present Supreme Court, given unanimously, and without hesitation. And so says every body eminent for learning, and knowledge of constitutional law, and good judgment, without opposition, without intermixture of dissent, or difference of judicial opinion
anywhere. And I hope I may be allowed on this occasion, Gentlemen, partly on account of a high personal regard, and partly for the excellence and ability of the production, to refer you all to a recent very short opinion of Mr. Prentiss, the district judge of Vermont. True, the case before him did not turn so much on the question of the constitutionality of this law, as upon the unconstitutionality, the illegality, and utter inadmissibility of the notion of private men and political bodies setting up their own whims, or their own opinions, above it, on the idea of the higher law that exists somewhere between us and the third heaven, I never knew exactly where.
All judicial opinions are in favor of this law. You cannot find a man in the profession in New York, whose income reaches thirty pounds a year, who will stake his professional reputation on an opinion against it. If he does, his reputation is not worth the thirty pounds. And yet this law is opposed, violently opposed, not by bringing this question into court; these lovers of human liberty, these friends of the slave, the fugitive slave, do not put their hands in their pockets, and draw funds to conduct lawsuits, and try the question; they are not much in that habit. That is not the way they show their devotion to liberty of any kind. But they meet and pass resolutions; they resolve that the law is oppressive, unjust, and should not be executed at any rate, or under any circumstances. It has been said in the States of New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio, over and over again, that the law shall not be executed. That was the language of conventions in Worcester, Massachusetts, in Syracuse, New York, and elsewhere. And for this they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor! Now, Gentlemen, these proceedings, I say it upon my professional reputation, are distinctly treasonable. Resolutions passed in Ohio, certain resolutions in New York, and in conventions held in Boston, are distinctly treasonable. And the act of taking away Shadrach from the public authorities in Boston, and sending him off, was an act of clear treason. I speak this in the hearing of men who are lawyers; I speak it out to the country; I say it everywhere, on my professional reputation. It was treason, and nothing less; that is to say, if men get together, and combine, and resolve that they will oppose a law of the government, not in any one case, but in all cases; if they resolve to resist the law, whoever may be
attempted to be made the subject of it, and carry that purpose into effect, by resisting the application of the law in any one case, either by force of arms or force of numbers, that, Sir, is treason. You know it well (addressing Mr. Spencer). The resolution, itself, unacted on, is not treason; it only manifests a treasonable purpose. When this purpose is proclaimed, and it is proclaimed that it will be carried out in all cases, and is car. ried into effect, by force of arms or of numbers, in any one case, that constitutes a case of levying war against the Union; and if it were necessary, I might cite in illustration the case of John Fries, convicted in 1799 for being concerned in an insurrection in Pennsylvania.
Now, various are the arguments, and various the efforts, to denounce this law; to oppose its execution; to hold it up as a subject of agitation and popular excitement. They are as diverse as the varied ingenuity of man, and the aspect of such questions when they come before the public. It is a common thing to say that the law is odious; and that therefore it cannot be executed, and will not be executed. That has always been said by those who do not mean it shall be executed; not by any body else. They assume the fact that it cannot executed, to make that true which they wish shall turn out to be true. They wish that it shall not be executed, and therefore announce to all mankind that it cannot be executed. When public men, and the conductors of newspapers of influence and authority, thus deal with the subject, they deal unfairly with it. Those who have types at command have a perfect right to express their opinions; but I doubt their right to express opinions as facts. I doubt whether they have a right to say, not as a matter of opinion, but of fact, that this particular law is so odious, here and elsewhere, that it cannot be executed. That only proves that they are of opinion that it ought not, that they hope it may not, be executed. They do not say, “Let us see if any wrong is inflicted on any body by it, before we wage war upon it; let us hope to find in its operation no wrong or injury to any body. Let us give it a fair experiment." Do any of them hold that language? Not one. The wish is father to the thought." They wish that it may not be executed, and therefore they say it cannot and will not be executed. That is one of the modes of presenting the case to the people; and, in my opinion, it is not quite a fair mode of doing it.
There are other forms and modes of conducting the opposition to the law. I may omit to notice the blustering of Abolition societies at Boston and elsewhere, as unworthy of regard; but there are other forms more insidious, and equally efficacious. There are men who say, when you talk of amending that law, that they hope it will not be touched. You talk of attempting it, and they dissuade you. They say, “Let it remain as obnoxious as it can be, and so much the sooner it will disgust, and be detested by, the whole community.” I am grieved to say that such sentiments have been avowed by those in Massachusetts who ought to be ashamed, utterly ashamed, to express such opinions. For what do they mean? They mean to make the law obnoxious; so obnoxious that it shall not be executed. But still they suggest no other law; they oppose all amendment; oppose doing any thing that shall make it less distasteful. What do they mean? They mean, and they know it, that there shall exist no law whatever, if they can prevent it, for carrying into, effect this provision of the Constitution of the country, let the consequences be what they may. They wish to strike out this constitutional provision; to annul it. They oppose it in every possible form short of personal resistance, or incurring personal danger; and to do this they say the worse the law is the better. They say we have now a topic, and for mercy's sake don't amend the horrible law of 1850.
Then, again, they say, “ We are for an eternal agitation and discussion of this question; the people cannot be bound by it. Every member of Congress has the right to move the repeal of this, as well as any other law.” Who does not know this, Gentlemen? A member must act according to his own discretion. No doubt he has a right to-morrow, if Congress were in session, to move a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law; but this takes with it another consideration. He has just as much right to move to tear down the Capitol, until one stone shall not be left on another; just as much right to move to disband the army, and to throw the ordnance and arms into the sea.
He has just as much right to move that all the ships of war of the United States shall be collected and burned ; an illumination like that which lit up the walls of ancient Troy. He may move to do any of these things. The question is, Is he prudent, wise, a real friend of the country, or adverse to it? That is all. And a