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faithfully fulfilled-cease the agitation of the slave question, and provide for the insertion of a provision in the Constitution, by an amendment, which will restore to the south in substance the power she possessed, of protecting herself, before the equilibrium between the sections was destroyed by the action of this government."
These terms amount to this: that the free states having already, or although they may hereafter have, majorities of population, and majorities in both houses of Congress, shall concede to the slave states, being in a minority in both, the unequal advantage of an equality. That is, that we shall alter the Constitution so as to convert the Government from a national democracy, operating by a constitutional majority of voices, into a federal alliance, in which the minority shall have a veto against the majority. And this would be nothing less than to return to the original Articles of Confederation.
I will not stop to protest against the injustice or the inexpediency of an innovation which, if it was practicable, would be so entirely subversive of the principle of democratic institutions. It is enough to say that it is totally impracticable. The free states, northern and western, have acquiesced in the long and nearly unbroken ascendency of the slave states under the Constitution, because the result happened under the Constitution. But they have honor and interests to preserve, and there is nothing in the nature of mankind, or in the character of that people to induce an expectation that they, loyal as they are, are insensible to the duty of defending them. But the scheme would still be impracticable, even if this difficulty were overcome. What is proposed is a political equilibrium. Every political equilibrium requires a physical equilibrium to rest upon, and is valueless without it. To constitute a physical equilibrium between the slave states and the free states, requires, first, an equality of territory, or some near approximation. And this is already lost. But it requires much more than this. It requires an equality or a proximate equality in the number of slaves and freemen. And this must be per petual.
But the census of 1840 gives a slave basis of only 2,500,000, and a free basis of 14,500,000. And the population on the slave basis increases in the ratio of 25 per cent. for ten years, while that on the free basis advances at the rate of 38 per cent. The accelerating movement of the free population, now complained of, will occupy the new territories with pioneers, and every day increases the difficulty of forcing or insinuating slavery into regions
which freemen have pre-occupied. And if this were possible, the African slave trade is prohibited, and the domestic increase is not sufficient to supply the new slave states which are expected to maintain the equilibrium. The theory of a new political equilibrium claims that it once existed, and has been lost. When lost, and how? It began to be lost in 1787, when preliminary arrangements were made to admit five new free states in the northwest territory, two years before the Constitution was finally adopted; that is, it began to be lost two years before it began to exist!
Sir, the equilibrium, if restored, would be lost again, and lost more rapidly than it was before. The progress of the free population is to be accelerated by increased emigration, and by new tides from South America and from Europe and Asia, while that of the slaves is to be checked and retarded by inevitable partial emancipation. "Nothing," says Montesquieu, "reduces a man so low as always to see freemen, and yet not be free. Persons in that condition are natural enemies of the state, and their numbers would be dangerous if increased too high." Sir, the fugitive slave colonies and the emancipated slave colonies in the free states, in Canada, and in Liberia, are the best guaranties South Carolina has for the perpetuity of slavery.
Nor would success attend any of the details of this compromise. And, first, I advert to the proposed alteration of the law concerning fugitives from service or labor. I shall speak on this as on all subjects, with due respect, but yet frankly and without reservation. The Constitution contains only a compact, which rests for its execution on the states. Not content with this, the slave states induced legislation by Congress; and the Supreme Court of the United States have virtually decided that the whole subject is within the province of Congress, and exclusive of state authority. Nay, they have decided that slaves are to be regarded not merely as persons to be claimed, but as property and chattels, to be seized without any legal authority or claim whatever. The compact is thus subverted by the procurement of the slave states. With what reason, then, can they expect the states ex gratia to reassume the obligations from which they caused those states to be discharged? I say, then, to the slave states, you are entitled to no more stringent laws; and that such laws would be useless. The cause of the inefficiency of the present statute is not at all
the leniency of its provisions. It is a law that deprives the alleged refugee from a legal obligation not assumed by him, but imposed upon him by laws enacted before he was born, of the writ of habeas corpus, and of any certain judicial process of examination of the claim set up by his pursuer, and finally degrades him into a chattel which may be seized and carried away peaceably wherever found, even although exercising the rights and responsibilities of a free citizen of the commonwealth in which he resides, and of the United States-a law which denies to the citizen all the safeguards of personal liberty, to render less frequent the escape of the bondman. And since complaints are so freely made against the one side, I shall not hesitate to declare that there have been even greater faults on the other side. Relying on the perversion of the Constitution, which makes slaves mere chattels, the slave states have applied to them the principles of the criminal law, and have held that he who aided the escape of his fellow-man from bondage was guilty of a larceny in stealing him. I speak of what I know. Two instances came within my own knowledge, in which governors of slave states, under the provision of the Constitution relating to fugitives from justice, demanded from the governor of a free state the surrender of persons as thieves whose alleged offences consisted in constructive larceny of the rags that covered the persons of female slaves, whose attempt at escape they had permitted or assisted.
We deem the principle of the law for the recapture of fugitives, as thus expounded, therefore, unjust, unconstitutional, and immoral; and thus, while patriotism withholds its approbation, the consciences of our people condemn it.
You will say that these convictions of ours are disloyal. Grant it for the sake of argument. They are, nevertheless, honest; and the law is to be executed among us, not among you; not by us, but by the federal authority. Has any government ever succeeded in changing the moral convictions of its subjects by force? But these convictions imply no disloyalty. We reverence the Constitution, although we perceive this defect, just as we acknowledge the splendor and the power of the sun, although its surface is tarnished with here and there an opaque spot.
Your constitution and laws convert hospitality to the refugee from the most degrading oppression on earth into a crime, but all mankind except you esteem that hospitality a virtue. The
right of extradition of a fugitive from justice is not admitted by the law of nature and of nations, but rests in voluntary compacts. I know of only two compacts found in diplomatic history that admitted EXTRADITION OF SLAVES Here is one of them. is found in a treaty of peace made between Alexander, Comnenus, and Leontine, Greek Emperors at Constantinople, and Oleg, King of Russia, in the year 902, and is in these words:
"If a Russian slave take flight, or even if he is carried away by any one, under pretence of having been bought, his s master shall have the right and power to pursue him, and hunt for and capture him wherever he shall be found; and any person who shall oppose the master in the execution of this right, shall be deemed guilty of violating this treaty, and be punished accordingly."
This was in the year of Grace, 902, in the period called the "Dark Ages," and the contracting powers were despotisms. And here is the other:
"No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor is due."
This is from the Constitution of the United States in 1787, and the parties were the republican states of this Union. The law of nations disavows such compacts; the law of nature, written on the hearts and consciences of freemen, repudiates them. Armed power could not enforce them, because there is no public conscience to sustain them. I know that there are laws of various sorts which regulate the conduct of men. There are constitutions and statutes, codes mercantile and codes civil; but when we are legislating for states, especially when we are founding states, all these laws must be brought to the standard of the laws of God, and must be tried by that standard, and must stand or fall by it. This principle was happily explained by one of the most distinguished political philosophers of England in these emphatic words:
"There is but one law for all, namely, that law which governs all law; the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity, the law of nature and of nations. So far as any laws fortify this primeval law, and give it more precision, more energy, more effect by their declarations, such laws enter into the sanctuary and participate in the sacredness of its character; but the man who quotes as precedents the abuses of tyrants and robbers, pollutes the very fountains of justice, destroys the foundations of all law. and therefore removes the only safeguard against evil men, whether governors or governed; the guard which prevents governors from becoming tyrants, and the governed from becoming rebels."
There was deep philosophy in the confession of an eminent English judge.
When he had condemned a young woman to
death, under the late sanguinary code of his country, for her first petty theft, she fell down dead at his feet. "I seem to myself," said he, "to have been pronouncing sentence, not against the prisoner, but against the law itself.”
To conclude on this point. We are not slaveholders. We cannot, in our judgment, be either true Christians or real freemen, if we impose on another a chain that we defy all human power to fasten on ourselves. You believe and think otherwise, and doubtless with equal sincerity. We judge you not, and He alone who ordained the conscience of man and its laws of action can judge us. Do we, then, in this conflict of opinion, demand of you an unreasonable thing in asking that, since you will have property that can and will exercise human powers to effect its escape, you shall be your own police, and in acting among us as such you shall conform to principles indispensable to the security of admitted rights of freemen?" If you will have this law executed, you must alleviate, not increase, its rigors.
Another feature in most of these plans of compromise is a bill of peace for slavery in the District of Columbia; and this bill of peace we cannot grant. We of the free states are, equally with you of the slaves states, responsible for the existence of slavery in this district, the field exclusively of our common legislation. I regret that, as yet, I see little reason to hope that a majority in favor of emancipation exists here. The legislature of New York, from whom, with great deference, I dissent, seems willing to accept now the extinction of the slave trade, and waive emancipation. But we shall assume the whole responsibility if we stipulate not to exercise the power hereafter when a majority shall be obtained. Nor will the plea with which you would furnish us be of any avail. If I could understand so mysterious a paradox myself, I never should be able to explain to the apprehension of the people whom I represent, how it was that an absolute and express power to legislate in all cases over the District of Columbia was embarrassed and defeated by an implied condition not to legislate for the abolition of slavery in this district. Sir, I shall vote for that measure, and am willing to appropriate any means necessary to carry it into execution. And, if I shall be asked what I did to embellish the capital of my country, I will point to her freedmen, and say, These are the monuments of my munificence!
If I was willing to advance a cause that I deem sacred by disin