Page images
PDF
EPUB

At last I have the floor again. I rose at once to reply to the Senator from Maryland [Mr. JOHNSON), when he made his objurgatory vindication of the proposed bust; but the floor was given to others. And now, as I look at the clock, I see that I can only begin what I have to say.

Again let me declare that I am sorry to be drawn into this debate. But they who seek to canonize one of the tools of Slavery are responsible. Taney shall not be recognized as a saint by any vote of Congress, if I can help it.

The Senator has a bad cause, and I inferred that he thought so himself, — first, because he talked so loud, and, secondly, because he became personal. A good cause would have been discussed in softer voice, and without personality. The Senator becomes personal easily. In the sweep of his movement, he brushed against my distinguished friend from New Hampshire [Mr. HALE], and also against my colleague and myself, simply because we could not join in this oblation to the author of the Dred Scott decision. The Senator from New Hampshire and my colleague have already answered him in proper terms. But I say for my colleague what he could not say for himself. He can bear gibes for not being a lawyer. He is not, like the Senator, a counsellor of the Supreme Court of the United States, but in all the duties of Senator he is in every respect the equal of the Senator from Maryland.

Here Mr. Sumner was arrested hy the Vice-President announcing that the hour fixed for a recess had arrived. The consideration of the bill was never resumed, and it expired with the session. Had oppor. tunity occurred, Mr. Sumner would have continued :

I have already said that Chief Justice Taney, in pronouncing that fatal judgment, falsified history. Judicial error is aggravated by such a falsification; and here the evidence is complete. His statement is precise, that for more than a century before the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of our Constitution people of the African race had been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations”; and this unhappy asseveration culminates in the words, "and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” And he adds: “This opinion was at that time fired and universal in the civilized portion of the white

It was regarded as an axiom in morals, as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing or supposed to be open to dispute.This is plain, though failing in the precision which belongs to the bench. But how untrue! All this naturally ends in shutting out the unhappy African from citizenship, involving the right to sue in the courts of the United States.

Unhappily, at that time Slavery prevailed extensively; but it had already received many blows, while the rights of the African were asserted not only by individuals, but by communities. Nay, more, from the beginning, the axiom of the Chief Justice, which, according to him, no one supposed open to dispute, had been assailed. Great authorities, great names, together with legislative and judicial bodies, stood forth against it.

race.

There is Massachusetts, my own honored Commonwealth. From the earliest days of her history Slavery

found little favor with her Legislature or her people. As early as 1645 the Legislature sent back two negroes brought from Guinea in a Boston ship, and the next year repeated its testimony against the heinous and crying sin of man-stealing."In the saine spirit, John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians, presented a memorial to the Governor and Council against selling captured Indians into slavery, saying, “ To sell souls for money seemeth to me a dangerous merchandise.”2 In 1701, Boston desired her Representatives in the General Court "to promote the encouraging the bringing of white servants, and to put a period to negroes being slaves.” 3 At the same time Chief Justice Sewall, of a family constant in warfare with Slavery, published a tract entitled “The Selling of Joseph a Memorial," where he maintained that "originally and naturally there is no such thing as Slavery,” and that “these Ethiopians, as black as they are, seeing they are the sons and daughters of the first Adam, the brethren and sisters of the last Adam, and the offspring of God, they ought to be treated with a respect agreeable.” 4 In this spirit, the judicature of Massachusetts, in 1770, made haste against Slavery, by declaring the principle of Emancipation, - according to one authority, two years before the famous Somerset case in England. This was followed, in 1780, by the Declaration of Rights, announcing that “all men are born free and equal,” which the same judicature interpreted as abolishing

1 Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol. III. pp. 49, 84.

2 Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, Vol. X. p. 452, Appendix. 3 Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc., 2d Ser. Vol. VIII. p. 184.

4 Historical Magazine, June, 1964, Vol. VIII. pp. 195, 197: first printed Boston, 1700.

5 Washburn, Judicial History of Niassachusetts, p. 202.

Slavery; so that at the adoption of the National Constitution Slavery did not exist in Massachusetts. That this undoubted history should have been disregarded by the Chief Justice is more astonishing, when it is considered that the conclusion belonged to the jurisprudence of our country. In a case well known to all interested in the history of Slavery, and especially to lawyers, decided in 1836, Chief Justice Shaw said: “How, or by what act particularly, Slavery was abolished in Massachusetts, whether by the adoption of the opinion in Somerset's case, as a declaration and modification of the Common Law, or by the Declaration of Independence, or by the [State] Constitution of 1780, it is not now very easy to determine; and it is rather a matter of curiosity than of utility, it being agreed on all hands, that, if not abolished before, it was so by the Declaration of Rights."1 And yet even these words are forgotten in this fatal decision.

Here we must mention Rhode Island with honor. This State, planted by Roger Williams, may point with pride to her early record on Slavery. At a General Court held May 19, 1652, after setting forth, that “there is a common course practised amongst Englishmen to buy negroes, to that end they may have them for service or slaves forever," it was ordered, "that no black mankind, or white, being forced by covenant bond, or otherwise, to serve any man or his assigns longer than ten years, or until they come to be twenty-four years of age, if they be taken in under fourteen, from the time of their coming within the liberties of this colony." If Rhode Island afterwards

1 Commonwealth r'. Aves, 18 Pickering, R., 209.

2 Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Vol. I. p. 243.

departed from this law, it existed, nevertheless, as an example not to be forgotten by the Chief Justice. Nor should he have forgotten that Pennsylvania, as early as 1712, passed an act to prevent the increase of slaves, although it was annulled by the Crown, and that this same State enacted, March 1, 1780, that all persons born in that State after that day were free at the age of twenty-eight years. But all this is inconsistent with the famous “axiom” on which the Chief Justice founded his fearful superstructure.

I need go no further than the dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Curtis, on this very occasion, to find, that, "at the time of the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, all free native-born inhabitants of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, though descended from Africa slaves, were not only citizens of those States, but such of them as had the other necessary qualifications possessed the franchise of electors on equal terms with other citizens."3 Was all this forgotten by the Chief Justice? But how could he forget the decision of the admirable Judge Gaston, of North Carolina, who, describing the State Constitution of 1776, says, that it “extended the elective franchise to every freeman who had arrived at the age of twenty-one and paid a public tax; and it is a matter of universal notoriety, that, under it, free persons, without regard to color, claimed and exercised the franchise, until it was taken from

1 Act to prevent the Importation of Negroes and Indians, June 7, 1712: Laws, ed. Dallas (Philadelphia, 1797), Vol. I. p. 93; Archives, ed. Hazard, Vol. I. pp. 160, 162.

2 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery: Laws, ed. Dallas, Vol. I.

p. 838.

3 Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 Howard, R., 572, 573.

« PreviousContinue »