Slike strani
[ocr errors]

For want of time the following resolution was also offered and passed without eliciting any remarks, by Samuel Norris of Salisbury.

Resolved, That this Convention highly approve of the circulation of the Anti-Slavery Almanac, and recommend to all those who sympathize with the oppressed victims of slavery, to assist in scattering it as widely as possible.


Rev. Mr. Storrs of Concord, N. H., offered the following, and in a few minutes said much that was worth preserving.

Resolved, That, inasmuch as the daily practice of abolitionists ought to bear in every possible way upon this subject, we recommend the establishment as soon as hereafter may be, of a free labor store in Boston, which shall supply the auxiliary Societies throughout the State with the means of supplying such stores in the vicinity of each society.

By Rev. J. V. Himes of Boston,

Resolved, That freedom of speech and freedom of the press, being the only sure foundations of free institutions, the recent attempts throughout our country to prevent and interrupt the meetings, and suppress the publications of abolitionists, by lawless violence, ought to be looked on with horror and alarm by every friend of his country, of liberty, and of the human race.

The audience then rose and united in singing, to the tune of Old Hundred

[ocr errors]

"From all that dwell below the skies," &c.

My Ree & Perove ser The following ingenious disquisition upon the Constitution was offered to the meeting on the afternoon of the 20th, in the course of the debate, which arose upon the resolution offered by the Rev. H. C. Wright. We wish the argument of the gentleman on the other side had been also furnished us for publication.


Since the opponents of our cause seem determined to dishonor the Constitutution of our country, by ascribing to it so foul a doctrine as the righteousness of slavery, I must esteem it of great importance to vindicate the Constitution from such reproach. We ought, first of all, to determine what the Constitution is; and I conceive it to consist first and essentially in principles, and secondly, in the form of government. I am not ignorant that the propensity is prevalent to consider and speak of that part of the Constitution, which is the mere form of our government, as the entire Constitution; but I know that a body without a soul is not a man, and that a form of government, without the principles on which the government is to be administered, is a political corpse.

Every government is based on some principles, and in a Republic those principles ought to be recorded and annunciated, or there can be no stability, and the people must be in darkness and be liable to any abuses, which unprincipled rulers may impose on them, through such false constructions of constitutional provisions as may suit the purposes of tyranny. The people, in a republic, are the interpretors of the Constitution, which they themselves have framed. In order that, from generation to generation. the people may have some clear, fixed, unalterable standard, by which they may interpret the provisions of their Constitution, some fundamental principles must be agreed on and published to be perpetually kept before the minds of the whole community. Shall the government always be administered on principles of righteousness? Then those principles must be settled at the beginning.

The notion is monstrous, that the interpretation of the Constitution is submitted to any one man, or to any legislature or court, absolutely and exclusively. This would give to that individual or that body of men, a power as mighty

and as dangerous as was ever usurped by single or aristocratic despotism. In this republic, the right and the duty of interpretation is everywhere in the Supreme Court - in the President-in each house of Congress - in the State Governments, and in every citizen. All these act as checks and balances on each other, so that the error of one may be corrected by the judgment of others. Herein lies our security. Without this we have no security. And now, to aid and guide the whole to a right interpretation, well-defined principles must be laid at the foundation. This was done in the Declaration of Independence. To show that I am not in error here, I need only adduce the universal practice of reading that document, or re-declaring its principles on every fourth of July. This is not done for the purpose of annually asserting our independence of Great Britain. Such an annual act would long before now have become ridiculous in the extreme. As well might the man of sixty celebrate the anniversary of his freedom which he attained at twenty-one. A worthier motive than this prompts the nation to review the principles of righteous and rightful liberty every year. It is to keep in view and to transmit to posterity those great, foundation, vital principles of our Constitution those principles which impart to the form of our government all its life, and energy, and stability. Accordingly, the following portion of the Declaration has usually been read with peculiar emphasis, and heard with thrilling interest. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their JUST powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." This portion of the Declaration contains precisely the view I am now taking of our government. "To institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form," &c. Principles and form. Our fathers saw that to organize in "form" without "principles," would be creating a body without life. They, therefore, annunciated to the world, the principles on which they intended to erect the political edifice. And, inasmuch as their purpose was not to rear a Babel, nor to establish a government of rapine and wrong, they sought out and laid down those principles, which were settled as righteous as "self-evident truths," and on these they declared they would build the government. And who, of the present generation, will avow himself ignorant of "self-evident truths?" or who will so defame the memory of the worthy dead as to impute to the fathers of our country the hypocrisy of avowing as self-evident such truths' as they did avow, and then, in the eye of the world and of God, practically disavow these same "self-evident truths," by insinuating into the “form "of government, which they " organized" principles by themselves and everywhere and eternally known to be antagonist to those just avowed by themselves? That those, who impute to the framers of the Constitution such duplicity, may, in some instances, not be aware how they tarnish the moral character of such men as Washington, and Franklin, and King, and Sherman, and Langdon, and their associates, I must admit, though it is difficult; but no greater infamy can well be conceived, than that these men, some of them, Sherman, Franklin, and others, being signers of the Declaration in 1776, should in 1785 set their names to any instrument, which was intended to wrest from a portion of the "all men created equal and endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," should set their names to any instrument intended to wrest from them all these very rights, and to place in the hands of tyrants a "guaranty" to withhold them by a nation's consent and a nation's power, and to inflict on the subjects of such oppression, at will, I do not say all those punishments, for it is absurd to speak of punishment without a crime, but to inflict on them all those sufferings to which pride, avarice, and passion may prompt the holders of absolute, irresponsible authority. The slaves are "men and the unalienable rights of all men can with no more justice be denied them than any other men. But I have not yet done with the principles on which our venerated fathers

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

founded this Republic. Those broad principles are, indeed, expressed by them in few words. So the Savior of the world declared the great Constitutional principies of the government of God in few words; "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments (foundation principles,) hang all the law and the prophets." Every article and c'ause in the form of the divine government is to be interpreted in accordance with these two great princip es; and as, so interpreted, the law of God cannot a limit of, but condemns oppression among inen, in other words cannot adinit of, but condemns slavery, the most enormous and flagitious of all oppression; so neither can the constitution of this nation, interpreted as it ought to be, in accordance with the great principles of right, contained in the nation's own Bill of Rights, or taken as part and parcel of the whole government- the whole constitution, embracing principles and form admit of, but condemns all oppression, above all, slavery, compared with which all oppression, which can be measured by dollars and cents, becomes light as air. The people will so interpret their Constitution, and correct the errors which have been stealing their way almost unobserved into the counsels of the nation. As one of the people, I am bound in patriotism so to interpret the Constitution of my country.

Slavery exists, I know, and I blush to know, under both National and State Laws; but that it harmonizes with the principles of this nation's government

that it is constitutional, I deny, and thousands before me have denied. Every man has denied it, who has ever admitted that slavery is inconsistent with the nation's Bill of Rights, for by the principles of that Bill of Rights it is evinced too clearly for a school-boy to misunderstand, that this government is not constitutionally, though it may be practically, a slaveholding government. Mark the words I have already quted. Let me call up again a phrase or two, which may have been passed over with too little regard to the full import. After declaring" that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights of life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the framers of the government add, that to secure these rights- mark it to secure, not to create, nor to trample into the dust, these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent" (not a a consent coerced, of course,) the tree, cheerful consent of the governed. Our fathers being the judges, therefore, if any powers had been by the provisions of the form of government conferred on one class of the people, to take away or to withhold these rights of life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, those powers would have been unjust. Again hear the framers of the government, "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends," viz. the securing to the governed of the rights specified," it is the right of the peo ple, the governed, to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principle, and organizing its powers in such form as to them (the people, the governed) shall seein most likely to effect their safety and happiness." The slaves are a part of "the governed," here spoken of by our fathers, and what are we taught respecting their rights? Who be lieves it possible that the very men who, "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, for the rectitude of their intentions," declared these to be the principles of the government they intended to form, would or did, while thus under solemn oath, dare introduce into the provisions of the Constitution any "guaranty' or any thing like a guaranty to any man or to any State for wresting from any portion of "the people to be "governed" all those very "rights for the security of which all "just" governments are established, and which "the governed" have "the right to assert by subverting, " throwing off,” the oppressive government, and instituting another? If they had inserted any such guaranty in the form of government they instituted, their own avowed principles would be a fire to burn out the incongruous and iniquitous article, how covertly soever the "leprous spot" had been worded in upon the body politic.



[ocr errors]

But, though many of our opponents acknowledge the glaring inconsistency of slavery with the "principles" of the government, as contained in the Bill of Rights, they still contend that the Constitution does contain provisions, which amount to a guaranty for slave-holding in three or four clauses, and,

therefore, we must submit or destroy the Constitution. So Gov. McDuffie, of South Carolina, who in his Message a year ago called "the Constitution a miserable mockery of tattered and blotted parchment," and averred that the South must seek a better guaranty for retaining their property in human beings than is found in it, this year claims that "Slavery is the corner stone of our Republican edifice." And how widely do they differ from him, who tell us that, if we touch slavery we shall destroy the Union? These last, perhaps, find more of something like a "guaranty "in the Constitution, than even the keen-eyed McDuffie. Three or four times allusion at least is made to slavery. First, in the article which provides for the app rtionment of Representatives and direct taxes. Secondly, in the article which provides for the reclaiming of a person heid to service or labor in one State escaping into another State. Thirdly, in the article respecting the immigration or importation of foreigners. Fourthly, and triumphantly, in the article touching reserved rights. In opposition to all this, I aver that there is no word or phrase in the Constitution of the United States, which necessarily signifies or implies the idea of slavery, so that no alteration of the Constitution would be at all needful, if slavery were abolished to-day. No definition, suiting the condition of a slave, is found in it. Nothing is said of men owned or held as the property of others. "All other persons -"a person held to service or labor to be reclaimed by the party to whom such service or labor may be due " persons immigrating or imported to this country' -are phrases entirely consistent with the idea of freedom in all of the persons" spoken of. For, in law. slaves are not persons but " property — goods and chattels - chattels personal."




Much reliance is placed, also, on the phrase "person held to service or labor." But an apprentice is such a "person," held to service or labor, while he is neither "property," nor "goods and chattels."


In regard to " reserved rights," I need only say that if the right (the_wrong) of holding "men as property is reserved to the States, because the Constitution does not in its provisions take such a right into the hands of the United States, I may claim for the States the reserved night of robbery, on the ground that this right is not claimed by the Constitution of the United States.

My only object has been, in these remarks, to show that there is nothing in the language of the Constitution which implies any guaranty for slave-holding. Most certainly there is not a word in the Constitution which confers on Congress the power of enacting slave laws; and yet Congress has presumed to enact such laws. Are these laws constitutional? certainly not, and any citizen of the United States has the constitutional right to prove them to be so; for freedom of speech and of the press is expressly established by that Constitution, and by the Constitutions of the several States, which right, no patriot or christian will surrender, but with his life.

But again, it is said that the provisions of the Constitution have been construed to contain a recognition of the right of slave-holding. This I shall not deny. Both the laws of Congress, and the Constitutions and laws of several of the States, undoubtedly, so construe the Constitution. But the question to be answered at this point is-Is such construction to be taken as proof that slavery is guarantied by the Constitution? Is any Constitution to be interpreted by the laws which are professedly based upon it? If so, we ought to ask whether any article of the Constitution is established by law, and not whether a law is constitutional? But I am not aware that such is the usual mode of treating the Constitution. I have supposed, and have I labored under a mistake? I have supposed that laws are to be tested by their agreement or disagreement with the Constitution; and not the Constitution by any laws enacted under it. The good old order of things has been reversed, or a law is to be approved or condemned as it is found to be constitutional or unconstitutional, and each provision of the Constitution is to be interpreted by the principles contained in the Bill of Rights; in other words, any construction put upon an article of the Constitution is to be sustained or rejected as it makes that article harmonize or conflict with the principles of the government as contained in the Bill of Rights.

Shall I be met here with a denial that the Declaration of Independence contains the Nation's Bill of Rights, or the principles on which our government is found

ed? If so, it might be sufficient to hear the denial with silence and with shame for the objector. But, in this case, I may answer according to the folly of the objector, that I may reprove it by a simple reference to the fact, to which I have already alluded, that annually, on the fourth of July, it has been the practice throughout the nation, from its birth, to rehearse the Declaration of Independ ence, for the purpose of refreshing the memories of the people with the great fundamental principles on which the government is erected, that every man may be reminded of the sound and solid foundation of our Republican edifice, and, keeping them as the apple of the eye, may hold them up in holy defiance of all political aspirants, who may be disposed to elevate themselves at the expense of the rights of others. In doing this, we have professed not to be supremely selfish. We have hoped to see the thrones of foreign despotism subverted by these principles of right. We have thundered them in the ears of all nations, till the earth rang again. This is the noise that ye have heard for more than half a century. We have sympathized with the valiant Poles and struggling Greeks, and it was our principles of independence which prompted such sympathy. But must we forget the application of these principles to the cruelly oppressed in our own country? Must we bow with reverential awe, or rather with recreant servility, before the haughty "throne of iniquity," erected on the bodies and souls-the most precious rights- the groans and tears of millions of our own fellow-citizens, thousands of them being of " the posterity" of that generation of Americans, who resisted unto blood the principles and the impositions of tyrants, and established this republic "to secure to themselves and to their posterity, the blessings of Liberty?"

Shall we refrain from making application of the holy principles, which our fathers derived directly from the oracles of God, and made the basis of this gov. ernment, and which they expected their children would as fearlessly apply to the form of government, under which they placed them as they applied the cannon-shot to the strong holds of their oppressors? Shall we refrain from do ing this, under a cowering, servile fear of giving offence to any class of men? Is the fear- the high authority of God himself to be disregarded, and its place in our hearts supplied with the fear and quaking of the hypocrite? For hypocrisy it must be hypocrisy, foul and damning as possessed the heart of Judas

to profess the holding of the righteous, heaven-derived principles of the Bill of Rights, while in our works we deny them.

Let the nation retract her pretensions to all political piety, and rescind her declaration of those holy principles, and stand out before God and mankind the unblushing advocate of despotism, the object of Jehovah's wrath and of the world's scorn,- or honestly apply those principles to every provision of her Constitution that it may be purified of all the pollution, which has been imposed on it, and stand forth to the eyes of all nations, as the most righteous and best of all Constitutions, and to the eye of Him, who made all men equal, and endowed them with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as a worthy transcript of His own holy constitution of government.


[ocr errors]



The starting of objections like those I have noticed, strongly indicates the weakness of the cause in which they originate. If slavery be capable of defence by the Constitution interpreted by the principles, which lie at the founda tion of the government, let its advocates manfully meet us in argument on that ground. Why do they not? It is there every great questior of government must be settled, or remain unsettled. And is it patriotism? is it honor? is it worthy of Americans to perpetuate the present unsettled state of things? Let there be decision that we may have peace, which can never be enjoyed, while the nation is like the troubled sea, which cannot rest.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »