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VIEWS OF EARLY VIRGINIA STATESMEN.
its entire abolition. Mr. Iredell of North Carolina, said in the convention which adopted the Constitution, “when the entire abolition of slavery takes place, it will be an event which must be pleasing to every generous mind and to every friend of human nature.” It was with such views, hopes and expectations on the part of leading statesmen of that day, that the Constitution was adopted. The Constitution itself was based on the great idea embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “ that all men are created equal."
This grand idea which Jefferson made the corner stone of our National Independence, we shall have occasion, bye and bye to see, was the basis of Mr. Lincoln's political creed, the key-note of his administration; the foundation of that political system which he carried out fully by his Proclamation of Emancipation, and the amendment of the Constitution abolishing and prohibiting slavery forever.
In order that slavery might be brought to an end, provision was made in the Constitution that the slave trade might be prohibited by Congress after the year 1808.
It ought to be stated in vindication of the early statesmen of Virginia, that they appreciated the injustice and wrong of slavery, and that as early as 1772, the Legislature of that Commonwealth addressed the King of Great Britian, exposing the inhumanity of Slavery, and expressing the conviction that it was opposed to the security and happiness of the people, and would, in time, endanger their existence. The King in reply, answered, that“ upon pain of his highest displeasure the importation of slaves should not be in any respect obstructed.”
“ Pharisaical Britain,” said Benjamin Franklin, referring to the Somerset case, “ to pride thyself in setting free a single slave that happened to land on thy coast, while thy laws continue a traffic whereby so many thousands are dragged into a slavery that is entailed on their posterity.” *
Mr. Jefferson said during the war, “ The way I hope is preparing under the auspices of IIeaven, for a total emancipation.” No candid historical student but will endorse the statement that the current of public sentiment, following the war, and cotemporary with the adoption of the Constitution was strongly in favor of emancipation; abolition societies were formed in many States, at that period, of which the leading statesmen of the day were members. The abolition society of Pennsylvania was formed in 1774, and enlarged in 1787, and Dr. Benjamin Franklin was made President, Dr. Rush and other very distinguished men were members.
* Bancroft's oration upon Lincoln,
The abolition society of New York was formed in 1785, of which that great and pure man, Chief Justice John Jay, was the first President, and the second was the statesman, soldier and financier, Alexander IIamilton. Similar societies were formed in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Men of the highest oflicial and social position were prominent and active members. Memorials and petitions were sent by them to Congress calling for abolition. Mr. Jackson a member of Congress from Georgia, said: “ It is the fashion of the day to favor the liberty of the slave.” At this period of our history the religious sects often passed resolutions denouncing slavery, and Christians almost universally bore testimony against it as immoral and against the spirit of the teachings of Christ. The Methodist, the Presbyterian and the Baptist denominations were especially emphatic in their denunciations. The sentiment and conviction against slavery was so general and extended, that it caused the abolition of slavery in a majority of the old thirteen States; and in the Convention which framed the Constitution of Kentucky an effort was made to prohibit slavery which came near being a success, and which would have prevailed, but for the powerful influence of the two great slaveholding families of Breckenridge and Nicholson. The head of the Breckenridge family at that time was the grandfather of John C. Breckenridge, the late senator from Kentucky, expelled from the United States Senate as a traitor. Upon the heads of these two families, especially, rests the fearful responsibility of that beautiful State's being cursed with slavery.
In 1777, Vermont formed her Constitution which prohibited slavery. It is the tradition that soon after the
ABOLITION IN NEW ENGLAND,
revolutionary war, a suit was brought before a Vermont Judge involving the title to a negro. The plaintiff produced a regular bill of sale of the negro to himself, and rested his case; the Judge then inquired, “ IIow did the man you bought of, acquire title?” A regular bill of sale to him was produced. “But," said the Judge, “how did this man acquire title ?" Mr. Attorney, "continued the Judge, addressing the counsellor for the plaintiff, “nothing will be regarded as evidence
, of title to a man by this court, but a bill of sale from Almighty God. Unless you can procure that your case will be dismissed.”
It was judicially settled in Massachusetts, that slavery could not exist under the Constitution of 1780, which declared “ all men are born free and equal.” Indeed as early as 1770, a case was made up by the negroes to test the legality of slavery—and they obtained a decision in favor of freedom. Various cases were tried in the courts of that State,and the decisions were uniformly against the validity of holding persons as slaves.
Chief Justice Shaw suggests that slavery may have been abolished in Massachusetts by the Declaration of Independence. However that may be, he says it was clearly abolished by the first article of her declaration of rights, viz: “all men are born free and equal, and have certain natural and essential rights — which are the rights of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property.” It is a fact worthy of note that it had been decided in Massachusetts, two years before the Summerset case, that slaves could not exist in that State. The decision was placed upon the same grounds upon which Lord Mansfield discharged Summerset.
In New Hampshire, slavery was abolished by the declaration of rights in 1784. Rhode Island, provided by law that all persons born in that State after March, 1784, should be free. Connecticut, in 1784, passed a law for gradual abolition. Pennsylvania, in 1780, passed a law for gradual emancipation. In 1799, New York adopted measures for gradual
. emancipation, and New Jersey in 1804.
Slavery was thus rapidly disappearing. Peaceful agencies would have soon made the republic all free, and saved us from the late terrible war of the slaveholders, but for the introduction of new elements. The most important of these was the invention by Whitney, of the cotton-gin, and the vast addition of new and virgin territory adapted to the growth of cotton by negro labor. The immediate and enormous profits of cotton growing gave a power to slavery never before felt. Then immediately arose a gigantic pecuniary interest which found its gains in slavery. A powerful cotton and slave aristocracy soon grew up, which in its arrogance, in progress of time proclaimed that “cotton is king.” An immense property interest invested in the production of cotton, owning lands and negroes, was organized at the South, and soon there arose in sympathy to some extent with it, a powerful cotton manufacturing interest at the North, and these two were interwoven into the web of the
It has been said that when Jay negotiated what is called “ Jay's treaty," with England in 1794, he did not know that cotton was an article of export, so small was then the quantity of this staple product.
The slaveholders, relatively few in number, now united and became a compact, active, determined, overbearing, despotic, unscrupulous power. They became skilful politicians. They subsidised by money, and secured in their interests by the rewards of official position, many of the ablest and most talented men of the country. The free States, and especially the honest, liberty loving masses of the people, absorbed in material pursuits, engrossed in the labor of subduing the forests and reclaiming a continent; in building towns, cities, schools, churches, colleges, canals and railways, were kept divided, and were ruled by the adroit and skilful politicians of the slave States.
From this time a great change, in the sentiment of the people, as expressed through the press, in churches, and in the action of the government was manifest, until slavery dominated over the nation.
The religious organizations, and the voluntary benevolent associations soon ceased to protest and bear witness against
LOCATION OF THE CAPITAL AT WASHINGTON.
slavery, and many of them went so far as to give to the institution their countenance and support.
Very soon after the adoption of the Constitution, the slave power- vigilant and sagacious for its security ---- began to concentrate and entrench itself. Congress, in 1790, accepted from North Carolina, the territory now forming the State of Temessee, upon condition, that that portion of the Ordinance of 1787, which secured freedom, should not be applied to it, and that no regulation should be made by Congress, which would tend to emancipate slaves. Following this came in 1796, the admission of Tennessee as a slave State.
The Capital of the Republic was, in 1790, located at Washington, in the District of Columbia, upon territory ceded for that purpose to the United States by Maryland and Virginia; and all the slave laws of these two States in a mass were extended over this territory, by which slavery was continued, in territory orer which Congress had exclusive jurisdiction and control. This was a most important triumph of the slave power.
The Capital, to a considerable extent, gave tone to the national sentiment and opinion. This location of the Capital on slave territory, secured for slavery the sway of social influence and fashion. The power of Washington society and public opinion over the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative Departments of the government is felt to this day. There was ever in it down to the time of the advent of Lincoln a pro-slavery atmosphere, in which the officials of the government lived and moved and had their being. This atmosphere was never purified, until the thunderbolt of freedom and emancipation came during the administration of Abraham Lincoln. This location of the Capital gave to the aristocratic element the power of social ostracism, towards the friends of liberty, which was used for years with a tyranny and contemptuous pride and arrogance, which could only be found in an organization of slaveholders to uphold slavery.
The fugitive slave law of 1793, was passed to enable the master to follow the fugitive, seeking freedom; a law which in the light of to-day would be held by the Supreme Court of the United States a violation of the Constitution. The