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• Resolved, That slaves do not possess the right of petition secured to the people of the United States by the Constiturion'!-Yeas 162! nays 18 !
Mr. Adams was defended with distinguished ability by Mr. Evans of Maine, and Messrs. Lincoln and Cushing of Massachusetts—and by these members only. During the whole of this unparalleled excitement, he behaved with exemplary equanimity and admirable self-possession. His speech, in vindication of his course, was the hewing of Agag in pieces by the hand of Samuel. He contended that there is not a word in the Constitution of the United States excluding petitions from slaves. The right of petition God gave to the whole human race, when he made them men,--the right of prayer, by asking a favor of another. It belongs to humanity: it does not depend on the condition of the petitioners: it is supplication, it is prayer: it is the cry of distress asking for relief. Referring to the spurious petition from Fredericksburg, he remarked— The gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Patton) says he knows these women, [the petitioners, and that they are infamous. How does the gentleman know it?' Mr. Patton explained. He did not say that he knew the women personally. He knew from others, that the character of one of them was notoriously bad. "Mr. Adams rejoined. I am glad the gentleman now says he does not know the women ; for if he had not disclaimed that knowledge, I might have asked who it was that made these women infamous -whether it was those of their own color, or their masters? I have understood that there are those among the colored population of slaveholding States, who bear the image of their masters. [Great sensation.] ** * Did the gentleman from South Carolina think he could frighten me from my purpose, by his threat of a Grand Jury? If that was his object, let me tell him he mistook his man. I am not to be frightened from the discharge of a duty by his indignation, nor by all the Grand Juries in the universe. *** It is said that I have trified with the House. That I deny. No, sir, I had a higher purpose ; and having disclaimed such intention, no man has a right to charge me with it. Sir, I never acted under a more solemn sense of duty ; I never was more serious in any moment of my life. I have disclaimed nothing I have done or said. I have retracted
nothing. I have done my duty; and I should do it again, under the same circumstances, if it were to be done to-morrow !'
Such was the fearless, dignified and victorious spirit with which Mr. Adams repelled one of the most groundless and furious attacks ever encountered by the representative of a free people. No other man,-not an abolitionist,-could have been found in the free States, probably, capable of so much endurance, or of achieving such a victory. The infamous suggestion of Mr. Waddy Thompson, that Mr. Adams should be indicted by the Grand Jury of the District of Columbia as a felon and an incendiary, plainly shows that the southern slaveholders, if they had the physical power, would incarcerate within the walls of a penitentiary, every northern representative who should dare to lisp a syllable in opposition to slavery upon the floor of Congress. If further proof were needed, it is contained in a letter of Messrs. Claiborne and Gholson, members from the State of Mississippi, to their constituents, dated Washington, Feb. 14, 1837. The writers, alluding to Mr. Adams and the slave petition, use the following venomous language:– He is sunk beneath reproach, and his late wicked attempt has withered him with scorn to worse than a cypher. Mr. Adams is today as odious as a traitor. If his conduct was not treason in name, it was treason in fact; and it has met its reward !-if not in a traitor's grave, a traitor's infamy! If more evidence be needed of what the spirit of slavery would do, if it could safely, to our representatives who dare to speak their own thoughts, read the following murderous passage from the Charleston (S. C.) Mercury, the oracle of slaveholders : · Public opinion in the South would now, we are sure, justify an immediate RESORT TO FORCE by the Southern delegation-EVEN ON THE FLOOR OF CONGRESS-were they forthwith to SEIZE AND DRAG FROM THE HALL, any man who dared to insult them, as that eccentric old showman, John Quincy Adams, has dared to do. If there be laws against incendiaries, in the District of Columbia, HE SHOULD BE INDICTED. If the privileges of the House are to screen an Abolitionist, who holds concert with the slaves of the Dis
trict, it is time that Virginia and Maryland should interfere, AND PUT DOWN SUCH A NUISANCE AS CONGRESS MUST BE UPON THEIR BORDERS.' If still other and more authoritative evidence be required to prove that the slave-tyrants of the South are resolved upon administering lynch law to all the enemies of their accursed slavesystem, who may chance to be within their power, let the following atrociuus declaration of Mr. Preston of S. C., made in the U. S. Senate on the 4th instant, annihilate the last fragment of northern skepticism : This much he would say: let an abolitionist (Gerrit Smith or William Jay, for example) come within the borders of South Carolina,-if we can catch him, we will try him; and nothwithstanding all the interference of all the governments of the earth, including this federal government, WE WILL HANG HIM. No doubt of it. Mr. Preston was neither joking, nor attempting to bluster. It is a fact in the awful history of the times, that every northern citizen, who refuses to bow down to the Moloch of slavery at the South, and who proclaims his abhorrence of the conduct of slaveholders, from that moment becomes AN OUTLAW in one half of the American Union. He can more safely trust himself in the paws of the bear, than in the hands of the bloody-minded men of the South. He may travel with impunity among savage tribes, and all other parts of the world are accessible to him; but if he is caught at the South, he will be suspended upon a gibbet for the crime of loving liberty for all men, irrespective of clime or color; and though he may suppose that he is shielded from all danger by the American Constitution, yet will he find that even the national government has no power to save him from an ignominious fate!-In vain shall he appeal to his unblemished character as a man, a citizen, and a christian ; in vain claim the liberty of speech and of conscience, secured to him by the clearest constitutional provisions as an inalienable right; in vain protest that bis heresy consists simply in a hearty subscription to the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence; in vain appeal for justice to the Supreme Court of his country; for there is none able to deliver him. Die he
must; die ignobly; die upon the gallows. We will hang him'! is the murderous assurance from the lips of a U. S. Senator, in his place in Congress. Shocking as it is, and calculated to chill the blood of every friend of humanity, it called forth no expression of surprise, or indignation, or horror, from any Senator. The Defender of the Constitution’ was dumb-and who else should presume to speak? If the time-honored adage be not, in this instance, strictly true, that 'silence gives consent,' what is that silence but a virtual abandonment of the vindication of northern character, and the defence of northern lives ? An expression, so sanguinary as that which fell from the lips of Mr. Preston, should have brought every northern senator to his feet, and elicited such a reply as would have caused the bloody-minded South Carolinian to hang his head as a detected, self-convicted russian. But no one stirred—the threat was made with impunity. The boldest held his breath!
On the 4th of March, 1837, Mr. Van Buren, the new President, made his inaugural address to the people of the United States. Better, far better for his reputation, if he had never emerged from village obscurity, than that he should have been elevated to the station he now fills, to put forth to the world such inhuman and anti-republican sentiments as are embodied in that address. If there be one constitutional provision more emphatic, more unequivocal than another, it is that which gives Congress exclusive jurisdiction, in all cases whatsoever, over the District of Columbia ; and, consequently, it has both the power and the right to abolish slavery and the slave trade in that District-or, in other words, to establish justice' between the inhabitants of the District, and to secure to them the blessings of liberty. This truth has been admitted and reiterated, from the time of the cession of the District up to the present hour, by southern as well as northern statesmen; nor can it be denied, without subverting the whole instrument. When Maryland and Virginia gave up all right and title to that free gist of territory, they necessarily relinquished the law-making power over it. Whatever laws, regulating their own internal concerns, they may have since modified, repealed or enacted, their
legislation has ceased to operate in the District of Columbia, as completely as in Massachusetts or Vermont. Whatever changes have taken place in the laws of the Dictrict, since its cession to the United States, they have been made solely by Congress. The slavery, therefore, which exists within its limits, has the sanction and is upheld by all the States in the Union, through their Senators and Representatives. It can be overthrown only by the power that sustains it. Hence, whenever a constitutional majority demand its abolition, it is lawful to obey that command. Indeed, it exists in express violation of the letter and spirit of the American Constitution ; it is, therefore, a dangerous usurpation, which, aside from all considerations of humanity, ought to be crushed instantly. In what section or clause of the Constitution is authority given to Congress to foster or even tolerate slavery, by express statute, upon the soil that might be ceded to the United States ? The doctrine of the South, properly understood, that Congress has no right to meddle with slavery, is sound. It follows that that body had no right to accept of that which it could not constitutionally touch : it exceeded its power in receiving slavery, but having committed the crime, it has power to repudiate it at any moment. By the Constitution, every slave in the District of Columbia is a freeman; because an instrument expressly designed to establish justice, and secure the blessings of liberty,' cannot empower the legislative body acting under its provisions to establish and sustain slavery, and secure the victims of slaveholders ; and because all the laws of Congress, transforming one portion of the inhabitants of the District into chattels personal, are by that great instrument null and void. It is not necessary to pursue the argument. The right of Congress to abolish slavery in the 'ten miles square,' is indisputable: even Mr. Van Buren, though anxious to please the South in every thing, admits it. As to the expediency, the duty of such abolition, who that despises fraud, or loathes rapine, or abhors blood,' or fears perjury, can for one moment doubt? Who that loves his country, and would not have her (what she is now) a by-word and a hissing among the tyrants of the old world, will not be eager to see the stain