Page images

continent are to be broken off from their connection with the Atlantic, through the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Delaware, the Potomac, and the Mississippi ; what portion of this people are to be denied the use of the lakes, the railroads, and the canals, now constituting common and customary avenues of travel, trade, and social intercourse ; what families and kindred are to be separated, and converted into enemies; and what states are to be the scenes of perpetual border warfare, aggravated by interminable horrors of servile insurrection ? When those portentous lines shall be drawn, they will disclose what portion of this people is to retain the army and the navy, and the flag of so many victories; and, on the other hand, what portion of the people is to be subjected to new and onerous imposts, direct taxes, and forced loans, and conscriptions, to maintain an opposing army, an opposing navy, and the new and hateful banner of sedition. Then the projectors of the new republic of the south will meet the question--and they may well prepare now to answer it—What is all this for? What intolerable wrong, what unfraternal injustice, have rendered these calamities unavoidable? What gain will this unnatural revolution bring to us? The answer will be: All this is done to secure the institution of African slavery.

And then, if not before, the question will be discussed, What is this institution of slavery, that it should cause these unparalleled sacrifices and these disastrous afflictions? And this will be the answer: When the Spaniards, few in number, discovered the western Indies and adjacent continental America, they needed labor to draw forth from its virgin stores some speedy return to the cupidity of the court and the bankers of Madrid. They enslaved the indolent, inoffensive, and confiding natives, who perished by thousands, and even by millions, under that new and unnatural bondage. A humane ecclesiastic advised the substitution of Africans reduced to captivity in their native wars, and a pious princess adopted the suggestion, with a dispensation from the head of the church, granted on the ground of the prescriptive right of the christian to enslave the heathen, to effect his conversion. The colonists of North America, innocent in their unconsciousness of wrong, encouraged the slave traffic, and thus the labor of subduing their territory devolved chiefly upon the African race. A happy conjuncture brought on an awakening of the conscience of mankind to the injustice of slavery, simultaneously with the independence

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

of the colonies. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, welcomed and embraced the spirit of universal emancipation. Renouncing luxury, they secured influence and empire. But the states of the south, misled by a new and profitable culture, elected to maintain and perpetuate slavery; and thus, choosing luxury, they lost power and empire.

When this answer shall be given, it will appear that the question of dissolving the Union is a complex question; that it embraces the fearful issue whether the Union shall stand, and slavery, under the steady, peaceful action of moral, social, and political causes, be removed by gradual, voluntary effort, and with compensation, or whether the Union shall be dissolved, and civil wars ensue, bringing on violent but complete and immediate emancipation. We are now arrived at that stage of our national progress when that crisis can be foreseen, when we must foresee it. It is directly before us. Its shadow is upon us. It darkens the legislative halls, the temples of worship, and the home and the hearth. Every question, political, civil, or ecclesiastical, however foreign to the subject of slavery, brings up slavery as an incident, and the incident supplants the principal question. We hear of nothing but slavery, and we can talk of nothing but slavery. And now, it seems to me that all our difficulties, embarrassments, and dangers, arise, not out of unlawful perversions of the question of slavery, as some suppose, but from the want of moral courage to meet this question of emancipation as we ought. Consequently, we hear on one side demands—absurd, indeed, but yet unceasing —for an immediate and unconditional abolition of slavery—as if any power, except the people of the slave states, could abolish it, and as if they could be moved to abolish it by merely sounding the trumpet loudly and proclaiming emancipation, while the

, institution is interwoven with all their social and political interests, constitutions, and customs.

On the other hand, our statesmen say that “slavery has always existed, and, for aught they know or can do, it always must exist. God permitted it, and he alone can indicate the way to remove it.” As if the Supreme Creator, after giving us the instructions of his providence and revelation for the illumination of our minds and consciences, did not leave us in all human transactions, with due


invocations of his Holy Spirit, to seek out his will and execute it for ourselves.

Here, then, is the point of my separation from both of these parties. I feel assured that slavery must give way, and will give way, to the salutary instructions of economy, and to the ripening influences of humanity; that emancipation is inevitable, and is near; that it may be hastened or hindered; and that whether it shall be peaceful or violent, depends upon the question whether it be hastened or hindered; that all measures which fortify slavery or extend it, tend to the consummation of violence; all that check its extension and abate its strength, tend to its peaceful extirpation. But I will adopt none but lawful, constitutional, and peaceful means, to secure even that end; and none such can I or will I forego. Nor do I know any important or responsible political body that

proposes to do more than this. No free state claims to extend its legislation into a slave state. None claims that Congress shall usurp power to abolish slavery in the slave states. None claims that any violent, unconstitutional, or unlawful measure shall be embraced. And, on the other hand, if we offer no scheme or plan for the adoption of the slave states, with the assent and co-operation of Congress, it is only because the slave states are unwilling as yet to receive such suggestions, or even to entertain the question of emancipation in any form.

But, sir, I will take this occasion to say that, while I cannot agree with the honorable senator from Massachusetts in proposing to devote eighty millions of dollars to remove the free colored population from the slave states, and thus, as it appears to me, fortify slavery, there is no reasonable limit to which I am not willing to go in applying the national treasures to effect the peaceful, voluntary removal of slavery itself.

I have thus endeavored to show that there is not now, and there is not likely to occur any adequate cause for revolution in regard to slavery. But you reply that, nevertheless, you must have guaranties; and the first one is for the surrender of fugitives from labor. That guaranty you cannot have, as I have already shown, because you cannot roll back the tide of social progress. You must be content with what you have. If you wage war against us, you can, at most, only conquer us, and then all you can get will be a treaty, and that you have already.

But you insist on a guaranty against the abolition of slavery in


[ocr errors]

the District of Columbia, or war. Well, when you shall have declared war against us, what shall hinder us from immediately decreeing that slavery shall cease within the national capital ?

You say that you will not submit to the exclusion of slaves from the new territories. What will you gain by resistance? Liberty follows the sword, although her sway is one of peace and benefi

Can you propagate slavery then by the sword ? You insist that you cannot submit to the freedom with which slavery is discussed in the free states. Will war—a war for slavery -arrest or even moderate that discussion? No, sir; that discussion will not cease; war will only inflame it to a greater height. It is a part of the eternal conflict between truth and error-between mind and physical force—the conflict of man against the obstacles which oppose his way to an ultimate and glorious destiny. It will go on until you shall terminate it in the only way in which any state or nation has ever terminated it—by yielding to it-yielding in your own time, and in your own manner, indeed, but nevertheless yielding to the progress of emancipation. You will do this, sooner or later, whatever may be your opinion now; because nations which were prudent and humane, and wise as you are, have done so already.

Sir, the slave states have no reason to fear that this inevitable change will go too far or too fast for their safety or welfare. It cannot well go too fast or too far, if the only alternative is a war of races.

But it cannot go too fast. Slavery has a reliable and accommodating ally in a party in the free states, which, though it claims to be, and doubtless is in many respects, a party of progress, finds its sole security for its political power in the support and aid of slavery in the slave states. Of course, I do not include in that party those who are now co-operating in maintaining the cause of freedom against slavery. I am not of that party of progress which in the north thus lends its support to slavery. But it is only just and candid that I should bear witness to its fidelity to the interests of slavery.

Slavery has, moreover, a more natural alliance with the aristocracy of the north and with the aristocracy of Europe. So long as slavery shall possess the cotton-fields, the sugar-fields, and the rice-fields of the world, so long will commerce and capital yield it toleration and sympathy. Emancipation is a democratic revolu


tion. It is capital that arrests all democratic revolutions. It was capital that, so recently, in a single year, rolled back the tide of revolution from the base of the Carpathian mountains, across the Danube and the Rhine, into the streets of Paris. It is capital that is rapidly rolling back the throne of Napoleon into the chambers of the Tuilleries.

Slavery has a guaranty still stronger than these in the prejudices of caste and color, which induce even large majorities in all the free states to regard sympathy with the slave as an act of unmanly humiliation and self-abasement, although philosophy meekly expresses her distrust of the asserted natural superiority of the white race, and confidently denies that such a superiority, if justly claimed, could give a title to oppression.

There remains one more guaranty-one that has seldom failed you, and will seldom fail you hereafter. New states cling in closer alliance than older ones to the federal power. The concentration of the slave power enables you for long periods to control the federal government with the aid of the new states. I do not know the sentiments of the representatives of California ; but, my word for it, if they should be admitted on this floor to-day, against your most obstinate opposition, they would, on all questions really affecting your interests, be found at your side.

With these alliances to break the force of emancipation, there will be no disunion and no secession. I do not say that there may not be disturbance, though I do not apprehend even that. Absolute regularity and order in administration have not yet been established in any government, and unbroken popular tranquillity has not yet been attained in even the most advanced condition of human society. The machinery of our system is necessarily complex. A pivot may dropout here, a lever may be displaced there, a wheel may fall out of gearing elsewhere, but the machinery will soon recover its regularity, and move on just as before, with even better adaptation and adjustment to overcome new obstructions.

There are many well-disposed persons who are alarmed at the occurrence of any such disturbance. The failure of a legislative body to organize is to their apprehension a fearful omen, and an extra-constitutional assemblage to consult upon public affairs is with them cause for desperation. Even senators speak of the Union as if it existed only by consent, and, as it seems to be implied, by the assent of the legislatures of the states. On the contrary, the

« PreviousContinue »