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Government by war or rebellion ; but it may have powers to be used in those exigencies which are dormant in time of peace. Such, for example, are the power to call out the militia (art. 1, sect. 8), to try by martial law cases arising in the militia (Amendments, 5), to suspend the writ of habeas corpus (art. 1, sect. 9), to quarter troops in private houses (Amendments, 3). But, when the National Government is called to the stern duty of repressing insurrection or repelling invasion, may not new power over the relation of master and slave be brought into action ? Such, I think, is the result.
A plain case is presented by slaves employed in the military and naval service of the rebels. If captured, they may be set free.
The Government may refuse to return a slave to a master who has been engaged in the Rebellion, or suffered the slave to be employed in it.
It may require the services of all persons subject to its jurisdiction by residing upon its territory, when the exigency arises, to aid in executing the laws, in repressing insurrection, or repelling invasion. This right is, in my judgment, paramount to any claim of the master to his labor, under the local law. There might be a question of the duty of the slave to obey; but the will of the master could not intervene. His claim, if any, would be a reasonable compensation for the labor of his slave.
But, though the power may exist, there is, with prudent and humane men, no desire to use it. Nothing but the direst extremity would excuse the use of a power fraught with so great perils to both races; and the recent triumphs of our arms, evincing our capacity to subdue the Rebellion without departure from the usages of civilized warfare, have, I trust, indefinitely postponed the question.
There is one other exigency in which the relation of master and slave must give way to military necessity. If the commander of a military district shall find that the slaves within it, by the strength they give to their rebellious masters, — by bearing arms, or doing other military service, or acting as the servants of those who do,
- obstruct his efforts to subdue the Rebellion, he may deprive the enemy of this force, and may remove the obstruction, by giving freedom to the slaves. This, it is apparent, is not a civil or legislative, but a strictly military right and power, springing from the exigency, and measured and limited by it, to be used for the subduing of the enemy, and for no ulterior purpose. If the commander-in-chief and the generals under him shall observe faithfully this distinction, the use of the power ought to be no just ground of complaint. If, in consequence of the protraction of the war, the effect of the use of this power should be to put an end to slavery in any of the States, or to weaken and impair its force, we may justly thank God for bringing good out of evil.
In my judgment, it would be impracticable for the Legislature, even if it had the power, to anticipate by any general statute the exigencies or prescribe the rules for the exercise of this power. The Legislature and the people will be content to leave the matter to the sound discretion and patriotism of the magistrate selected to execute the laws.
To avoid misconstruction, I desire to say that the power of Congress over slavery in this District is absolute; that no limitation exists in the letter or spirit of the Constitution or the acts of cession. All that is requisite for abolishing slavery here is just compensation to the master. Equally absolute, in my judgment, is the power of Congress over slavery in the Territories.
Mr. Chairman, in a letter to a friend, published on the first day of the last year, I ventured to say that secession should be resisted to the last extremity, by force of arms; that it cost us seven years of war to secure this Government, and that seven years, if need be, would be wisely spent in the struggle to maintain it; that for this country there was no reasonable hope of peace but within the pale of the Constitution, and in obedience to its mandates. The progress of events has served only to deepen those convictions. They are as firmly rooted as my trust in God and his providence. Whoever else may falter, I must stand by the Constitution I have sworn to support. I am not wise enough to build a better. I am not rash enough to experiment upon a nation's life. There is, to me, no hope of“ one country” but in this system of many States and one nation, working in their respective spheres as if the Divine Hand had moulded and set them in motion. To this system the integrity of the States is as essential as that of the central power. Their life is one life. A consolidated government for this vast country would be essentially a despotic government, democratic in name, but kept buoyant by corruption, and efficient by the sword.
Desiring the extinction of slavery with my whole mind and heart, I watch the working of events with devout
gratitude and with patience. The last year has done the work of a generation. By no rash act of ours, much less any radical change in the Constitution, shall we hasten the desired result. If, in the pursuit of objects however humane; if, beguiled by the flatteries of hope or of shallow self-conceit; if, impelled by our hatred of treason, and desire of vengeance or retribution; if, seduced by the “insidious wiles of foreign influence," we yield to such change, we shall destroy the best hope of freeman and slave, and the best hope of humanity this side the grave.
MAY 24, 1862.
The House. having under consideration the bills to confiscate the property, and free from servitude the slaves, of rebels, Mr. THOMAS said,
Mr. SPEAKER, — Before proceeding to the discussion of the measures before the House, I hope I may be pardoned for making one or two preliminary suggestions. At an early day, I expressed my earnest conviction of the course to be pursued by the Government and people of this country in relation to secession; that it was but another and an unmanly form of rebellion, and that it must be met at the threshold, and crushed by arms; that after an ordinance of secession, as before, it was the duty of the Government to execute in every part of this indivisible Republic the Constitution and the laws.
But I believed then, and believe now, that the life of the States is just as essential a part of this Union as the life of the central power; that their life is indeed one life; and when the gentleman from New York [Mr. Sedgwick] yesterday assured the House that the statement made by me in a former speech, “ that, when the conflict of arms ceases, the nation will remain, and the