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Mr. Reverdy Johnson agreed with Mr. Sherman in his objection, and then argued, that, on the repeal of the Act of Congress regulating this trade, it could be carried on under the Constitution without restriction.
Mr. Sumner said :
Of course I disagree radically with the Senator from Maryland [Mr. JOHNSON). He is always willing to interpret the Constitution for Slavery. I interpret it for Freedom. And yet he is anxious lest the repeal of the two obnoxious sections regulating the coastwise slavetrade should leave it open to unrestrained practice. I do not share his anxiety.
Where will the slaves come from? Not from the Rebel States; for Emancipation is the destined law there. Not from his own State ; for Emancipation will soon be the law there. But even should slaves be found for this traffic (which, thank God, cannot be the case), I am unwilling that Congress should continue to regulate the ignoble business. Our statute-book should not be defiled by any such license. Remove this license, and the Constitution, rightly interpreted, will do the rest.
Here arises the difference between the Senator and myself. He proceeds as if those old days still prevailed, when Slavery was installed supreme over the Supreme Court, giving immunity to Slavery everywhere. The times have changed, and the Supreme Court will yet testify to the change. To me it seems clear, that, under the Constitution, no person can be held as a slave on shipboard within the national jurisdiction, and that the national flag cannot cover a slave. The Senator thinks differently, and relies upon the Supreme Court; but I cannot doubt that this regenerated tribunal will
yet speak for Freedom as in times past it has spoken for Slavery. And I trust, should my life be spared, to see the Senator from Maryland, who bows always to the decisions of that tribunal, recognize gladly the law of Freedom thus authoritatively pronounced. Perhaps he will wonder that he was ever able to interpret the Constitution for Slavery. If he should not, others must.
But my special purpose is to remove odious provisions, and I have contented myself with words of repeal, in the hope of presenting the proposition in such a form as to unite the largest number of votes. My own disposition has been to go further, and to add words of positive prohibition. But, at the present moment, I am willing to waive this addition, and content myself with the simple repeal, that our statute-book may no longer be degraded, trusting that the Constitution, rightly interpreted, will suffice. And yet the positive prohibition, which the Senator seems to invite or to challenge, would not only purify the statute-book, but effectually guard against the future, so that both Constitution and Law would be arrayed against an infamous traffic. Clearly this ought to be done; and if I have not presented it, do not set it down to indifference or inattention, but simply to my desire that the proposition, moved on an appropriation bill, should be limited to the necessity of the occasion. To do less than I propose would be wrong. I should be glad to do more.
Mr. Hendricks, of Indiana, remarked :“I an
am surprised that any Senator should oppose the proposition of the Senator from Massachusetts, for we all know that eventually it will be adopted. The objection as to its materiality, or proper connection with this measure, is but an objection of time. No gentleman can question that the
Senator from Massachusetts will eventually carry his proposition. . .
Why, then, contest the matter longer? .... It may as well come now as at any time. Sir, I regret to see this. Every law put upon the statute-book by our fathers, with a view of carrying out the provisions of the Constitution, or in pursuance of the spirit of the union between the States, I regret to see wiped out; but we have witnessed it, and I think the effort to delay is useless."
Mr. Collamer, of Vermont, argued for the repeal, insisting that “all laws that undertake to deal with slaves, who are persons under the Constitution and our laws, as articles of merchandise, are unconstitutional."
Meanwhile Mr. Sumner added to his amendment the words, “ a the coastwise slave-trade is prohibited forever"; so that the amendment repealed the two obnoxious sections regulating the trade, and also prohibited it.
June 25th, the debate continuing, Mr. Sumner spoke again.
I wish to make one remark on the question of power. I say nothing on the point whether Congress under the Constitution may regulate the trade in slaves between the States on the land. I waive that question. The proposition before the Senate simply undertakes to prohibit the coastwise slave-trade. Now, Sir, I hold in my hand Brightly's Digest. Turning to that, you will find one head entitled “ Coasting Trade,” containing no less than forty-eight different sections, each in the nature of a regulation by Congress on that subject. I turn next to another head, entitled “ Passengers." There I find seventeen sections, each in the nature of a regulation on that subject; and in point of fact it is well known that Congress has, by most minute regulations, determined the conditions on which passengers shall be carried in ships. It is known that those regulations are applied especially on board the California steamers, and the steamers between this country and Europe. In the one case the steamers are foreign; in the other they are domestic, -- or the trade, if I may so say, is domestic.
In view of this minute and ample legislation on the subject of passengers and of the coasting-trade, I submit there can be no question that Congress can go further, and, by a final regulation, declare that in our coasting-trade there shall be no such thing as the slavetrade.
The amendment was lost, – Yeas 13, Nays 20.
At the next stage of the bill Mr. Sumner moved the same amendment, with the words prohibiting the coastwise slave-trade. On moving it, he remarked :
I HAVE but one observation to make. It seems to me this Congress will do wrong to itself, wrong to the country, wrong to history, wrong to the national cause, if it separates without clearing the statute-book of every support of Slavery. Now this
Now this is the last support in the statute-book, and I entreat the Senate to remove it.
Mr. Saulsbury moved the indefinite postponement of the bill, which was lost without a division. Meanwhile Mr. Sumner had succeeded in attaching to the Appropriation Bill the clause opening United States courts to colored witnesses. Alluding to this incident, Mr. Doolittle said that he did not like to vote for such measures on appropriation bills, but that he was in favor of the abolition of the coastwise slave-trade, and should vote in the affirmative.
The amendment was carried, — Yeas 23, Nays 14, — and the bill was approved by the President July 2, 1864.
OPENING OF THE UNITED STATES COURTS
TO COLORED WITNESSES.
SPEECH IN THE SENATE, ON AN AMENDMENT TO THE Civil APPRO
PRIATION Bill, JUNE 25, 1864.
Failing to obtain a hearing for the bill reported from the Committee on Slavery and Freedmen,' Mr. Sumner resorted again to the Appropriation Bill.
June 25th, the Senate having under consideration the Civil Appropriation Bill, Mr. Sumner, after stating that the third section appropriated one hundred thousand dollars to aid the administration of justice, especially in bringing to conviction counterfeiters of Treasury notes, bonds, or other United States securities, as well as coin, remarked, that, to accomplish this result, something more than money was needed, that there must be an amendment of the Law of Evidence; and he sent to the Chair the following proviso, to be added to the third section:
"Provided, That in the courts of the United States there shall be no exclusion of any witness on account of color."
Mr. Sumner then remarked:
WHIS, Mr. President, is an amendment surely ap
posite. The objection of form, urged to my other proposition, is without any shadow of support here. It is proposed in the bill to appropriate one hundred thousand dollars to “ bring to trial and punishment” counterfeiters. The object is important, especially at this moment, when we are putting in circulation national securities on so large a scale. But suppose the
1 Ante, Vol. VIII p. 176.