SOME persons look upon the veneration with which the people of these United States regard the Constitution as savoring of superstition. It is at least a wholesome superstition, which cannot be disturbed without risk.
When a man, in calm moments of deliberate reflection, has settled and adopted the principles of ethics anil morality which ought to govern his life, and when, under the pressure of urgent exigency, or in moments of eager excitement, his view of their truth or value undergoes a sudden change, it is not safe to give way to such influence. He would evince wisdom in calling to mind, that, in hours of tranquil judgment, with no passion to blind and no impulse of the moment to urge beyond reason, he had adopted certain principles of action, for guidance and safety.
Doubtless age may correct, and ought to correct, the errors of youth. But when we change a life-rule, it should be from a matured conviction, that, on general principles, the correction is just and proper; not because it would afford relief or satisfaction for the time being, or prove convenient for some special purpose.
So of the Constitution of the United States. Of fallible because human origin, it is imperfect. A rule of political action in a progressive world, it was by its founders properly made subject to amendment. At the first session of the first Congress ten amendments were adopted; two have been added since; and experience has approved this action.
That other amendments may hereafter be necessary and proper it would be presumptuous to deny. But we ought to touch the ark of our political testimony with careful and reverent hand.
All legislative bodies are liable to sudden and wayward impulses. To these the Congress of our young country is more exposed than the Parliaments or Chambers of older nations. It would have been very unsafe to trust a Congressional majority with the power of amending the Constitution.
Difficulties and delays were properly put in the way of exercising such a prerogative. To two-thirds of both houses, or to a convention called by the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, was granted the power of proposing amendments ; while the power to ratify these was not confided to less than to the legislatures, or to the conventions, of three-fourths of the States composing the Union.
To alter the Constitution in any other way — as by the consent of a majority only of the several States — would be a revolutionary act. Doubtless revolutionary acts become a justifiable remedy on rare and great occasions, as in 1776 ; but they are usually replete with danger. They are never more dangerous than when employed by one section of a confederacy against another, weaker section of the same. To the stability of government, it is necessary that the rights of minorities should be strictly respected. The end does not necessarily justify the means. “ No example,” says an eminent and philosophical writer, “ is more dangerous than that of violence employed for a good purpose by well-meaning men.” 1
To such considerations has it been, in a measure, due that the people of the United States, with as much unanimity as usually characterizes any national decision, have held back, until now, from following the example of the civilized nations of Europe in emancipating their slaves. Until the Secessionists levied war against the Union, not the Democratic party alone, but the mass of the Republican party also, assented to the declaration in Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural, that they had “ no purpose to interfere, directly or indirectly, with the institution of Slavery in the States where it exists.” It had never been possible to obtain the votes of three-fourths of the States in favor of emancipation; and a large majority of those who held human servitude to be a moral wrong had looked upon its toleration among our neighbors of the South as an evil of less magnitude than the violation of the Constitution.
Though the wisdom of the ablest statesmen of the Revolution, without distinction of sections, recognized negro slavery as an iniquity and as a political element fraught with inevitable danger in the future, yet the evils and the dangers which are inseparably connected with that element have never been so clearly seen, have never made themselves so terribly apparent, as in the course of this war.
The conviction that Slavery is a standing menace to the integrity of the Union and the one great obstacle to peace gathers strength so rapidly from day to day, that many men are adopting the opinion, that it must needs be extirpated, if even at the cost of a revolutionary act.
It would be a misfortune, if this were the alternative. It is easy to pass the limit of regulated authority, but impossible to estimate the dangers we may encounter when that guardian limit is once transgressed. We may resolve that we will go thus far and no farther. So thought the honest and earnest Girondists of revolutionary France; but the current to which they had first opened a passage swept them away. Though the experiment succeed at last, a long Reign of Terror may overwhelm us ere success is reached.
And thus it is a matter of surpassing interest to determine whether the present stupendous insurrectionary convulsion has brought about a state of things under which, in strict accordance with the Constitution as it is, we may emancipate all negroes throughout the Union who are now held in involuntary servitude. This question I propose to discuss.
Every one is familiar with tne words in which the Constitution, while not naming Slavery, recognizes, under a certain phase, its existence, and aids it, under certain circumstances, to maintain the rights to involuntary labor which, under State laws, it claims ; thus : —
“ 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 may be due.”
The claims to service or labor here referred to may be for years or for life : both are included in the above provision. In point of fact, there were existing, at the time that provision was adopted, (as there still exist,) both classes: the first class, for a term of years, then consisting, in part, of claims against foreign adults who had bound themselves to service for a limited time to repay the expenses of their emigration, — but chiefly, as now, of claims to the service or labor of what were called apprentices, usually white minors ; the second, for life, were claims to the service or labor of men, women, and children of all ages, exclusively of African descent, who were called slaves.
The first class of claims were found chiefly in Northern States; the second chiefly in Southern. There was a great disparity between the numbers of the two classes. While the claims to service or labor for years numbered but a few thousands, there were then held to service or labor for life upwards of six hundred thousand persons: and the number has since increased to about four millions.
The constitutional provision is, that persons from whom under State laws service or labor is due shall not be exonerated from the performance of the same by escaping to another State. The apprentice, or the slave, shall, in that case, on demand of the proper claimant, be delivered up.
Such a provision clearly involves the recognition of certain rights of property ; but of -what kind ?
Is the ownership of one human being by another here involved ? Is the apprentice, or the slave, recognized in this clause as an article of merchandise ?
State laws regulating apprenticeship and slavery may give to the master of the apprentice, or of the slave, the custody of the person and the right of corporal punishment, in order the better to insure the performance of the labor due. These laws may declare that an apprentice, or a slave, who strikes his master, shall suffer death. They may provide that the testimony of an apprentice, or of a slave, shall not be received in any court of justice as evidence against his master. They may make the claims to service or labor, whether for years or for life, transferable by ordinary sale. They may declare sueli claims to be, under certain circumstances, of the nature of real estate. They may enact that these claims shall be hereditary, both as regards the claimant and the person held to service, so that heirs shall inherit them,— and also so that the children of apprentices, or of slaves, shall, in virtue of their birth, be apprentices or slaves. But State laws or State constitutions, whatever their provisions, cannot modify the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court has decided that “ the Government of the Union, though limited in its power, is supreme within its sphere of action ”; and again, that “ the laws of the United States, when made in pursuance of the Constitution, form the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” 2
Therefore State laws or constitutions can neither determine the interpretation of the Federal Constitution nor explain its intent It is to be interpreted by the words, fairly and candidly construed, of its framers.
In the provision under consideration the phraseology is remarkable. The word slave, though then in common use, to designate a negro held to service or labor for life, is not employed. It is impossible to believe that this peculiarity was accidental, or to overlook the inevitable inference from it. This provision does not recognize slavery except as it recognizes apprenticeship. African slavery, according to the expressly selected words, and therefore according to the manifest intent, of the framers of the Constitution, is here recognized as a claim to the service or labor of a negro: nothing more, nothing else.
It avails nothing to allege, even if it were true, that in 1787, when these words were written, a negro was commonly considered property. Chief-Justice Taney, delivering the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case, asserts that in the thirteen colonies which formed the Constitution “ a negro of the African race was regarded as an article of property.” This may or it may not have been true of a majority in those days. True or not, it refers only to the opinions of individual colonists ; and these cannot be received as a basis of construction lor the words, nor eati they rebut the plain intent, of a constitutional provision. It is not what individual colonists believed, but what the framers of the Constitution incorporated in that instrument, that we have to deal with.
They avoided the use of the word slave. They incorporated the words “ person held to service or labor.” They admitted the claim to service or labor : none other : a claim (regarded in its constitutional aspect) in the nature of what the law calls a chose in action, — or, in other words, a thing to which, though it cannot be strictly said to be in actual possession, one has a right.
In common parlance we employ words, in connection with Slavery, which imply much more than such a claim. We say slave-holder and slave-owner ; we speak of the institution of Slavery: but we do not say apprentice-holder or apprenticeowner ; nor do we speak of the institution of Apprenticeship. The reason, whether valid or invalid, for such variance of phraseology in speaking of the two classes of claims, is not to be found in any admission, express or implied, in the provision of the Constitution now under consideration. In it the framers of that instrument employed one and the same phrase to designate the master of the apprentice and the master of the slave. Both are termed “ the party to whom service or labor may be due.”
Is there any other clause in the Constitution in which a distinction is made between the apprentice and the slave ? There is one, and only one. In determining the number of inhabitants in each State as a basis of representation and taxation, it is provided that the whole number of apprentices shall be included, while three-fifths only of the slaves are to be taken into account. But the wording of this clause is especially noteworthy. It reads thus : —
“ Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.”
To avoid mistakes, it was deemed necessary to include apprentices by express specification. Why this ? Every one would have felt it to be absurd, if the words had been, “ the whole number of free persons, including farm-laborers.” But why absurd ? Because persons engaged in free labor are, beyond question, free persons. Not so those “ bound to service.” While so bound, apprentices may be considered not free ; when the “ term of years,” and with it the bondage to service, expires, they become free, or, as the common phrase is, “ their own masters.” It was necessary and proper, therefore, to specify 'whether, in the enumeration of inhabitants, they were to be estimated as free persons or as persons not free.
But would there be any fairness in construing this clause into an admission, by inference or otherwise, that an apprentice, while “bound to service,” is a slave ? Clearly not. He is a person not free for the time, because another has a legal claim to his service or labor. The Constitution admits this: nothing more.
And so of slaves. “ Other persons ” they are called, in contradistinction to “free persons”; therefore persons not free : and properly so called, seeing that, like the apprentice before his term expires, they are “ bound to service,” and that, unlike him, they remain thus bound for life.
But unless we admit that the apprentice, bound to service for a season, is a slave during that season, we cannot justly allege, that, by this provision of the Constitution, the negro, held to service or labor for life, is recognized as a slave.
A mere technical view of a great political question is usually a contracted one, of little practical value, and unbecoming a statesman. “ The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” Yet we must not mistake for technicality a careful interpretation, distinctly warranted by the terms employed, of a public instrument. Every public instrument, by which the governed delegate powers to those who govern, should be strictly construed.
I am not arguing, that the men who framed the Constitution did not regard negroes held to service or labor as slaves. I am not arguing that temporary claims, to the number (let us suppose) of forty or fifty thousand, may, for a moment, compare in importance with life-long claims, to the number of four millions; or that it is safe or proper to legislate in regard to the latter, involving as they do vast industrial interests, with as light consideration as might suffice in enacting regulations for the former. I am not arguing that a political element, which has gradually assumed proportions so gigantic as has American Slavery, can, with any safety or propriety, he dealt with, except after the gravest deliberation and the most sedulous examination, in advance, of every step we propose to take. I allege nothing of all this.
What I assert is, that neither the number of slaves nor the magnitude of the interests involved can properly influence the judgment in determining the just construction of a clause in the Constitution, or properly set aside a fair deduction from the wording of that clause as to its true spirit and intent. What I assert is, that the framers of the Constitution, in studiously avoiding the employment of the word slave, undeniably abstained from admitting into that instrument anything which the use of that word might have implied. Therefore the Constitution does not recognize the ownership of one human being by another. In it we seek in vain any foundation for the doctrine declared by Chief-Justice Taney, that persons held to service or labor for life arc articles of property or merchandise.
In one restricted sense, and only in one, is slavery recognized by the Constitution of the United States : as a system under which one man may have a legal claim to the involuntary labor of another.
Therefore the question, whether Congress has the constitutional right to emancipate slaves, resolves itself into this : — Can Congress constitutionally take private property for public use and destroy it, making just compensation therefor ? And is there anything in the nature of the claim which a master has to the service or labor of an apprentice, or of a slave, which legally exempts that species of property from the general rule, if important considerations of public utility demand that such claims should be appropriated and cancelled by the Government ?
This is the sole issue. Let us not complicate it by mixing it up with others. When we are discussing the expediency of emancipation and of measures proposed to effect it, it is proper to take into account not only State constitutions and State legislation, but also the popular conception of slavery under the loose phraseology of the day, and public sentiment, South as well as North, in connection with it. But when we are examining the purely legal question, whether, under the Constitution as it is and under the state of public affairs now existing, Congress has the power to enact emancipation, we must dismiss popular fallacies aud prejudices, and confine ourselves to one task: namely, to decide, without reference to subordinate constitutions or legislative action, what the supreme law of the land — the Constitution of the United States — permits or forbids in the premises.
It will be admitted that Congress has the right (Amendments to Constitution, Article 5) to take private property, with just compensation made, for public use. And it will not be argued that a claim of one inhabitant of the United States to the service of another, whether for a term of years or for life, is property which has been constitutionally exempted from such appropriation. It is evident, that, if a claim to the service of a slave cannot constitutionally be so taken and cancelled, neither can the claim to the service of an apprentice.
On the other hand, it is to be conceded, as a feature of the utmost importance in this case, that, when property of any kind to a vast amount is thus appropriated, the considerations which influence its appropriation should correspond in magnitude to the extent of the interests at stake. When the taking and cancelling of certain claims practically involves the social condition of four millions of the inhabitants of the United States and the industrial and financial interests of six millions more, it is desirable that the considerations to justify so radical and far-reaching a change should be in the nature of Imperative official duty rather than of speculative opinion or philosophical choice.
Let us proceed a step farther, and inquire if there be circumstances, and if so, what circumstances, under which it becomes the right and the duty of Congress to take and cancel the claims in question.
The controlling circumstances which bear upon this case may be thus briefly stated.
1. The Constitution (section 8) confers on Congress certain essential powers : as, to collect taxes, without which no government can be supported.
2. The Constitution (same section) authorizes Congress to “ make all laws that shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution ” these powers.
3. If Congress fail to carry into execution these powers, the Government is set at nought, and anarchy ensues.
4. An insurrection, extending over eleven of the States comprising the Union, now prevails.
5. Because of that insurrection, the essential powers granted to Congress by the Constitution cannot be carried into execution in these eleven States.
6. Because of the resistance offered by these insurrectionary States to constitutional powers, it becomes the duty of Congress to pass all laws that are necessary and proper to enforce these powers.
All this will be conceded; but a question remains. Who is to judge what laws are necessary and proper to carry into execution the powers, expressly granted by the Constitution, which are thus obstructed and defeated ?
This question has been determined by the highest legal tribunal of the United States, speaking by the mouth of one who will be acknowledged to have been her most distinguished presiding officer.
In the well-known case of McCulloch against the State of Maryland,3 ChiefJustice Marshall delivered the decision of the Supreme Court; and by that, decision the following principles were established : —
1. The construction of the words “ necessary and proper ” in the above connection. The Chief-Justice says, —
“The term ‘necessary’ does not import an absolute physical necessity, so strong that one thing to which another may be termed necessary cannot exist without that other.”
2. As to the degree of the necessity which renders constitutional a law framed to carry a constitutional power into execution, the rule by this decision is, —
“ If a certain means to carry into effect any of the powers expressly given by the Constitution to the Government of the Union be an appropriate measure, not prohibited by the Constitution, the degree of its necessity is a question of legislative discretion, not of judicial cognizance.”
3. But still more explicitly is the question answered, who is to be the judge of the appropriateness and necessity of the means to be employed, thus : —
“ The Government which has a right to do an act, and has imposed upon it the duty of performing that act, must, according to the dictates of reason, be allowed to select the means.”
Thus, then, the matter stands. The powers to lay and collect taxes, to exercise authority over forts and arsenals of the United States, to suppress insurrection, and various others equally essential, are expressly given by the Constitution to Congress. It is the right and duty of Congress to carry these powers into effect. In case of obstruction or defeat of existing laws framed to that intent, it is the right and duty of Congress to select such means and pass such additional laws as may be necessary and proper to overcome such obstruction and enforce obedience to such laws. In the selection of the means to effect this constitutional object, Congress is the sole judge of their propriety or necessity. These means must not be prohibited by the Constitution ; but whether they are the most prudent or the most effectual means, or in what degree they are necessary, are matters over which the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction. As Chief-Justice Marshall has elsewhere in this decision expressed it, for the Supreme Court to undertake to inquire into the degree of their necessity “ would be to pass the line which circumscribes the judicial department and to tread on legislative ground.”
There must , of course, be congruity or relevancy between the power to be enforced and the means proposed to enforce it. While Congress is to judge the degree of necessity or propriety of these means, they must not be such as to be devoid of obvious connection with the object to be attained.
In this case, the object to be attained is the enforcement, in the insurrectionary States, of laws without which no government can exist, and the suppression in these States of an insurrection of which the object is the dismemberment of the Union.
But these laws are resisted, and this insurrection prevails, in those States, and in those States only, in which the lifelong claims to the service or labor of persons of African descent are held under State laws. In States where slaves are comparatively few, as in Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, disaffection only prevails ; while in States where the number of slaves approaches or exceeds that of whites, as in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, insurrection against lawful authority is flagrant and outspoken : the insurrectionary acts of these States being avowedly based on the allegation that Slavery is not safe under the present constitutionally elected President, and that its permanent preservation can be insured by the disruption of the national unity alone.*
All this is matter of history. And there would be as much propriety in denying the connection between the sun and the light of day, as that between Slavery and the Rebellion.
There is a question upon which men differ : namely, whether emancipation is the most prudent or the most effectual means to enforce violated law and suppress the insurrectionary movement.
It is my opinion that a majority of the people of the loyal States believe, at this moment, that emancipation is the necessary and proper means to effect the above objects. But whether this opinion be well founded or not is immaterial to the present question. According to ChiefJustice Marshall’s decision, when it is the right and duty of the Government to perform an act, (as here to enforce law and suppress insurrection,) it “must, according to the dictates of reason, be allowed to select the means.” If Congress believes, that, in order to enforce law and suppress insurrection, it is necessary and proper to take and cancel all claims to life-long service or labor held in the Slave States, and if claims to service or labor, whether for years or for life, held by one inhabitant of the United States against another, be a species of property not specially exempted by the Constitution from seizure for public use, then an Act of Emancipation is strictly constitutional.
Congress is to be allowed to select the means; Congress is to be the judge of the necessity and propriety of these means : Congress, not the Supreme Court; not even the People in their primary meetings; but the People constitutionally represented in their National Legislature; the People, speaking by the voice of those whom their votes have elected to that Legislature, there to act for them.
If Congress believes that Emancipation is no longer a question of sectional interference, but of national preservation, it has the right to judge, and the constitutional right to act upon that judgment. And if Congress can properly allege, as motive for taking and cancelling a multitude of life-long claims to service, the preservation of the national existence, can a consideration of greater magnitude be imagined for any legislative act ?
In proceeding, however, to consummate such a measure, it is evidently most fitting and proper, that, in the preamble to an Act of Emancipation, there should be set forth, lucidly and succinctly, the causes and considerations which impelled to so solemn and momentous an act.
As to the just compensation provided by the Constitution to be paid, when private property is taken for public use, it is here to be remarked, —
1. If, when a minor is drafted, a father or an apprentice-master has no claim against the Government for service lost, it may be argued with some plausibility, that, under similar circumstances of public exigency, a slave-owner has no claim when his slave is freed. But the argument fairly applies only in cases in which a slave is drafted for military service, and returned to slavery when that service terminates. In case of wholesale taking and cancelling of life-long claims to service, a fair construction of the Constitution may be held to require, as a general rule, that just compensation should be made to the claimants.
2. But to Congress, by the Constitution, is expressly given the power to declare the punishment of treason, without any limitation as to the confiscation of personal property, including, of course, claims in the nature of choses in action. Congress may, therefore, take and cancel claims to service owned by Rebel slave-owners without any compensation whatever. Under the feudal law, a serf, owing service to a noble guilty of treason, became, because of his master’s guilt, released from such service.
3. If, because of the present insurrection, set on foot by claimants of service or labor, such claims, from precariousness of tenure or otherwise, have diminished in market-value, that diminution may be properly taken into account in estimating just compensation.
These various considerations converge to this, — that a Preamble and Act of Emancipation, somewhat in the terms following, may be constitutionally enacted.
A Bill to emancipate Persons of African Descent held to Service or Labor in certain of the United Stales.
WHEREAS there is now flagrant, in certain of the United States, an insurrection of proportions so gigantic that there has been required, to hold it in check, an increase of the army and navy of the United States to an extent seldom paralleled in the history of the world ;
And whereas, because of the said insurrection, the execution of the laws for collecting taxes, and of various other laws of the United States, heretofore enacted by the Congress in the just exercise of their constitutional powers, has been, for more than two years past, and still is, obstructed and defeated throughout the insurrectionary States;
And whereas it is the right and duty of the Congress to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the said constitutional powers ;
And whereas the said insurrectionary portions of the Union consist exclusively of States wherein persons of African descent are held in large numbers to involuntary service or labor,—the white inhabitants thereof basing their insurrectionary acts upon the assumption that the security and perpetuation of such involuntary servitude require the disruption of the national unity, and the establishment, on a portion of the domain of the United States, of a separate and independent government;
And whereas a large portion of the said persons of African descent, so held in servitude, contribute greatly, so long as such involuntary services are thus exacted from them, to the aid and comfort of the said insurrectionists, laboring for their behoof on their fortifications, and for the supply of their commissariat, and otherwise giving strength and support to various insurrectionary acts ;
And whereas, in an emergency so urgent as that which is now patent to the world, it is the duty of the Congress to place at the disposal of the Executive branch of the Government, for the common defence, the utmost power, civil and military, of the country, and to employ every means not forbidden by the usages of civilized warfare, and not in violation of the Constitution, that is placed within their reach, in order to repress and to bring to a speedy termination the present protracted and desolating insurrection ;
And whereas it appears from the above recitals, that the existence, throughout certain of the United States, of a laborsystem which recognizes the claims of one race of men to the involuntary services of another race (always a moral wrong) has now shown itself to be destructive of the supremacy of the laws, and a constant menace to the Government, and that the continuance of such labor-system imminently jeopardizes the integrity of the Union, and has become incompatible with the domestic tranquillity of the country ;
And whereas it has thus become evident that claims to the involuntary service or labor of persons of African descent ought not to be possessed by any inhabitant of the United States, but should, in the just exercise of the power which inheres in every independent government to protect itself from destruction by seizing and destroying any private property of its citizens or subjects which imperils its own existence, be taken, as for public use, from their present possessors, and abrogated and annulled, —just compensation being made to so many of the said possessors of such claims as may demand it, and as may by their loyalty be entitled thereto, for the claims so abrogated and annulled ; therefore,
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled, that from and after the-day ofnext all claims to the services or labor of persons of African descent, who shall then be held to involuntary service or labor in any of the States of the Union under the laws thereof, be and the same are hereby taken by the Government of the United States. And the said claims are hereby abrogated and annulled. And all persons of African descent within the United States, who shall, on the said—— day of-next, be held to involuntary service or labor, except for crime of which the party shall have been legally convicted, shall be released and emancipated from such claims in as full and complete a manner as if the same had never existed ; the said release, and emancipation to take effect from and after the said-day of-, thenceforth and forevermore.
And be it further enacted, that the faith of the United States be and the same is hereby pledged for the payment of just compensation to all persons who shall, on the said-day of-, hold such claims to service or labor; provided, that such persons shall make application for such compensation in the form and manner hereinafter prescribed, and provided further, that said persons shall have been, throughout the present insurrection, and shall continue to the close of the same, true and loyal to the Government of the United States, and shall not, directly or indirectly, have incited to insurrectionary acts, or given aid or comfort to any persons engaged in the insurrection aforesaid.
[Here should follow provisions in regard to the manner of application, the mode and rate of compensation, etc.]
It will probably be found that the number of slaves for the remuneration of whose lost, services applications will be made by loyal claimants, under such an act, will scarcely reach the number emancipated in 1834 by Great Britain, which was about seven hundred and seventy thousand; and that the sum paid by England to colonial slave-owners, namely about a hundred millions of dollars, (the probable cost of eight weeks war,) will suffice as just compensation for all the services due to loyal claimants thus taken and cancelled.4
An act couched in the terms here proposed could not be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, without a shameless encroachment on legislative ground, nor without a reckless reversal of principles as well established, and of as high authority, as any which form the basis of constitutional law.
Those who demur to the passage of an act which meets the great difficulty before us broadly, effectually, honestly, and in accordance with the dictates of Christianity and civilization, would do well to consider whether, in the progress of this insurrectionary upheaval, we have not reached a point at which there is no prudent alternative left. By the President’s Proclamation some three millions of slaves have been already declared free. Sundry laws of Congress have emancipated several hundred thousands more. There remain legally enslaved probably less than three quarters of a million,—chiefly scattered along a narrow border-strip that is coterminous, North and South, with Freedom or Emancipation,—partly dotted in isolated parishes or counties, surrounded by enfranchised slaves. Can we maintain in perpetuity so anomalous a condition of things ? Clearly not. At every step embarrassments innumerable obstruct our progress. No industry, no human sagacity, would suffice to determine the ten thousand conflicting questions that must arise out of such a chaos. Must the history of each negro be followed back, so as to determine his status, whether slave or free ? If negroes emancipated in insurrectionary States are sold as slaves into Border States, or into excepted parishes or counties, can we expect to trace the transaction ? If slaves owned in Border States, or in excepted parishes or counties, are sold to loyal men in insurrectionary States, are they still slaves ? or do they become free ? Are we to admit, or to deny, the constitutionality of Border-State laws, which arrest, and imprison as vagrants, and sell into slavery to pay expenses of arrest and imprisonment, free negro emigrants from insurrectionary States ? 5 But why multiply instances ? The longer this twilight of groping transition lasts, it will be only confusion the worse confounded.
We cannot stand still. Shall we recede ? We break faith solemnly plighted ; we submit, before the world, to base humiliation ; we bow down to a system which the voice of all Christendom condemns ; we abandon the struggle for nationality, and consent, for ages, perhaps, to a dismembered country. Shall we advance ? There is but one path —the plain, truth - lighted, onward path—to victory and to peace.
- “Il n’y a pas de plus dangereux exemple que celui de la violence excrcée pour le bien et par les gens de bien.” — “ L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution,” par Alexis de Tocqueville, Paris, 1856, p. 310.↩
- “ McCulloch against the State of Maryland.” 4 Wheaton, Rep., p. 316.↩
- February term, 1819. 4 Wheaton’s Rep., 316. Unwilling here to multiply words, I pray reference to the decision itself.↩
- The Secession Ordinance passed the Convention of South Carolina December 20, 1860. The next day, December 21, the Convention adopted the “Declaration of Causes” which led to that Secession. This document declares, as to the non-slaveholding States, that they have “denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery"; that they have “united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to Slavery,” and who declares that “the public mind must rest in the belief that Slavery is in the coarse of ultimate extinction.” And it winds up with this assertion:— “All hope of remedy is rendered vain by the fact that the public opinion of the North has invested a great political error with the sanctions of a more erroneous religious belief.”↩
- These, first put forth by South Carolina, afterwards indorsed by each seceding State, are the causes officially declared to have produced, and which are held to justify, the present insurrection.↩
- The exact number of slaves emancipated in the British colonies was 770,390; and the total amount of indemnity was .£19,950,000 sterling.↩
- If, hereafter, Attorney-General Bates's decision, that a free negro is a citizen, be sustained by the Supreme Court, then, should the question come up before it, the State laws above referred to will be declared unconstitutional. But meanwhile they have not been so declared, and are in force.↩
- The negro-excluding laws of Indiana and Illinois are in the same category.↩