Page images
PDF
EPUB

و

it should extend beyond the limits of the States in which it then existed. The hostility to slavery was so general, that it is believed the Fathers would have embodied abolition as a part of the Constitution, had they not supposed it would soon disappear before the peaceful moral agencies then operating against it They confidently hoped that public opinion, expressing itself through the press, the religious organizations, publie discussion, and rendering its final verdict through the - Ballot, and securing favorable legislation through State and Congressional action, would secure universal liberty “throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.” General Washington in a letter to Robert Morris written in 1786, speaking of slavery, said: “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.” The great leading lawyer and patriot of Maryland, Luther Martin, advocated the abolition of slavery in the Federal Convention of 1787; so also did William Pinckney, in 1789, in the Maryland House of Delegates. The Ordinance of 1787, by which freedom was forever secured to the Northwest, and to the great States of Ohio and Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, was by far the most important anti-slavery measure in American history, between the Declaration of Independence and the great Proclamation of Emancipation by Abraham Lincoln. Its influence has been decisive, on both the moral and martial conflict. Without the votes and influence of the great free Northwest, the offspring of this ordinance, slavery would have triumphed and carried its sway all over the land. It is very true that the love of liberty fostered by the free schools of New England, beginning like a rivulet among her granite hills, gradually widened and expanded until it became a mighty stream; but it was the broad and majestic torrent from the Northwest, like its own majestic Mississippi, which gave to the river of freedom, volume, and power, and irresistible strength, until it broke down all opposition, and swept away and overwhelmed all resistance.

The period immediately following the revolution is full of evidence that many of the leading men of nearly every State looked upon slavery with abhorrence, and were impatient for

[ocr errors]

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

" 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 påin 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 traflic 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

I is preparing under the auspices of Heaven, for a total

Bancroft's oration upon Lincoln.

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.

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 Hamilton. Similar societies were formed in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Men of the highest official 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 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, “How 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 emancipa

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 tivo were interwoven into the web of the slave power.

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

« PreviousContinue »