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´╗┐Title: Speech of John Hossack, Convicted of a Violation of the Fugitive Slave Law - Before Judge Drummond, Of The United States District Court, Chicago, Ill.
Author: Hossack, John
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Speech of John Hossack, Convicted of a Violation of the Fugitive Slave Law - Before Judge Drummond, Of The United States District Court, Chicago, Ill." ***

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     [At the February term of the U.S. District Court for the
     Northern District of Illinois, JOHN HOSSACK and JOSEPH STOUT,
     of Ottawa, were convicted of having aided in rescuing a
     fugitive slave from the custody of the U.S. Deputy Marshal at
     Ottawa, Oct. 20, 1859, and sentenced by Judge Drummond to pay
     a fine of one hundred dollars, and be imprisoned ten days.
     Mr. HOSSACK is a Scotchman by birth, but spent many years of
     his life in Quebec, following the occupation of a baker.
     About twenty years since, he removed to Ottawa, Illinois, and
     assisted in the construction of the Illinois and Michigan
     Canal. He has been for some years past a prominent dealer in
     grain, has acquired a competency by enterprise and industry,
     and is considered one of the most upright and intelligent
     citizens in the community. The following Plea, made by him
     before the Court, evinces true nobility of soul, the highest
     moral integrity, the most generous humanity, and genuine
     manly eloquence. Let it be read in every household, so that
     the execution of the infamous Fugitive Slave Act, in every
     part of the North, shall be rendered impracticable by a
     regenerated public sentiment.]


I have a few words to say why sentence should not be pronounced
against me. I am found guilty of a violation of the Fugitive Slave
Law, and it may appear strange to your Honor that I have no sense of
guilt. I came, Sir, from the tyranny of the Old World, when but a lad,
and landed upon the American shores, having left my kindred and native
land in pursuit of some place where men of toil would not be crushed
by the property-holding class. Commencing the struggle of life at the
tender age of twelve years, a stranger in a strange land, having to
earn my bread by the sweat of my brow, your Honor will bear with me.
Unaccustomed as I am to appear in Courts, much less to address them,
I have feared that I might fail in bearing myself on this occasion
worthy of the place and the position I occupy, and the great
principles involved in the case before you. I say to your Honor,
therefore, if I fail in observing the usual forms of the place, it
will be from a want of judgment and error of the head, and not of the
heart. Therefore I do not think I shall fare worse at the hands of
your Honor, if I state plainly my views and feelings on the great
question of the age--the rights of man. I feel that it is a case that
will be referred to long after you and I have gone to meet the great
Judge of all the earth.

It has been argued by the prosecution that I, a foreigner, protected
by the laws of my adopted country, should be the last to disobey those
laws; but in this I find nothing that should destroy my sympathy for
the crushed, struggling children of toil in all lands.

Surely, I have been protected. The fish in the rivers, the quail in
the stubble, the deer in the forest, have been protected. Shall I join
hands with those who make wicked laws, in crushing out the poor black
man, for whom there is no protection but in the grave, where the
wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest?

It is true, Sir--I am a foreigner. I first saw the light among the
rugged but free hills of Scotland; a land, Sir, that never was
conquered, and where a slave never breathed. Let a slave set foot on
that shore, and his chains fall off for ever, and he becomes what
God made him--a man. In this far-off land, I heard of your free
institutions, your prairie lands, your projected canals, and your
growing towns. Twenty-two years ago, I landed in this city. I
immediately engaged on the public works, on the canal then building
that connects this city with the great river of the West. In the
process of time, the State failed to procure money to carry on the
public works. I then opened a prairie farm to get bread for my family,
and I am one of the men who have made Chicago what it is to-day,
having shipped some of the first grain that was exported from this
city. I am, Sir, one of the pioneers of Illinois, who have gone
through the many hardships of the settlement of a new country. I have
spent upon it my best days, the strength of my manhood. I have eleven
children, who are natives of this my adopted country. No living man,
Sir, has greater interest in its welfare; and it is because I am
opposed to carrying out wicked and ungodly laws, and love the freedom
of my country, that I stand before you to-day.

Again, Sir, I ought not to be sentenced because, as has been argued by
the prosecution, I am an Abolitionist. I have no apologies to make for
being an Abolitionist. When I came to this country, like the mass from
beyond the sea, I was a Democrat; there was a charm in the name. But,
Sir, I soon found that I had to go beyond the name of a party in this
country, in order to know any thing of its principles or practice. I
soon found that however much the great parties of my adopted country
differed upon banks, tariffs and land questions, in one thing they
agreed, in trying which could stoop the lowest to gain the favor of
the most cursed system of slavery that ever swayed an iron rod over
any nation, the Moloch which they had set up, to which they offered as
human sacrifice millions of the children of toil. As a man who had
fled from the crushing aristocracy of my native land, how could I
support a worse aristocracy in this land? I was compelled to give my
humble name and influence to a party who proposed, at least, to
embrace in its sympathies all classes of men, from all quarters of the
globe. In this choice, I found myself in the company of Clarkson and
Wilberforce in my native land, and of Washington and Franklin, and
many such, in this boasted land of the free; and more than all these,
the Redeemer in whom I humbly trust for acceptance with my God, who
came to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the
captives, to set at liberty those who were bruised; yea, this very
religion binds me to those in bonds as bound with them. Tell me, Sir,
with these views, can I be any thing but an Abolitionist? Surely, for
this I ought not to be sentenced.

Again, Sir, I ought not to be sentenced, because the Fugitive Slave
Law, under which I am torn from my family and business by the supple
tools of the Slave Power, the slave-breeder and the slave-hunter, is
at variance with both the spirit and letter of the Constitution. Sir,
I place myself upon the Constitution, in the presence of a nation who
have the Declaration of Independence read to them every Fourth of
July, and profess to believe it. Yea, in the presence of civilized
man, I hold up the Constitution of my adopted country as clear from
the blood of men, and from a tyranny that would make crowned heads
blush. The parties who prostitute the Constitution to the support of
slavery are traitors--traitors not only to the liberties of millions
of enslaved countrymen, but traitors to the Constitution itself which
they have sworn to support. A foreigner upon your soil, I go not to
the platforms of contending parties to find truth. I go, Sir, to the
Constitution of my country: the word slave is not to be found. I read,
"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
Union, establish justice,"--yes, Sir, _establish justice_--"to promote
the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to
ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution
for the United States of America." These were the men who had
proclaimed to the world that _all_ men were created equal; that they
were endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights---life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and contended even unto death
for seven long years. Can it be, Sir, that these great men, under
cover of those hallowed words, intended to make a government that
should outrage justice and trample upon liberty as no other government
under the whole heavens has ever done? This dreadful power, that has
compelled the great political parties of the country to creep in
the dust for its favor; that has debauched to a large extent the
Christianity of the nation; that bids a craven priesthood stand with
Golden Rule in hand, and defend the robbing of mothers of their babes,
and husbands of their wives; that bids courts decree injustice; Sir,
I plant myself upon the Constitution, and demand justice and liberty,
and say to this bloody Moloch, Away! Sir, the world has never
furnished so great a congregation of hypocrites as those that formed
the Constitution, if they designed to make it the greatest
slaveholder, slave-breeder and slave-catcher on earth. He is a great
slaveholder that has a thousand slaves; but if this law is a true
exponent of the Constitution, this Government, ordained for justice
and liberty, holds four millions of slaves.

No, Sir! no! for the honor of the fathers of my country, I appeal
from the bloody slaveholding statute to the liberty-loving
Constitution. While these fathers lived, State after State, in
carrying out the spirit of the Constitution, put an end to the
dreadful system. The great Washington, in his last will and testament,
carried out the spirit of the Constitution.

But, sir, the law under which you may sentence me violates both the
letter and the spirit of the Constitution. I have a word to say upon
the articles of the Constitution which it is claimed the Fugitive
Slave Law is designed to carry out.

     "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 the claim of
     the party to whom such service or labor is due."

That is the provision that is claimed transforms the Government into a
monster of iniquity. I have read, over and over, that article,
interpreted by all laws of language known to a plain man. How these
three or four lines can transform this Government, ordained to secure
justice, into a mean tool to aid the plunderers of cradles, the
destroyers of home, the ravishers of women, and the oppressors of men,
to carry on their hellish work--how it can do this thing, I cannot
see. That article binds the several States separately not to pass a
certain law, but where in it do we find a Fugitive Slave Law? Where do
you find a Commissioner? Where do you find that the Government is to
hunt up and return, at its own expense, a slave that flees from his
cruel and bloody master? Where in those lines is the authority to
compel me to be a partaker in the crimes of the man-stealer? The
General Government is not once mentioned; but the States in their
separate sovereignties are named. But, Sir, this article expressly
provides that the party making the claim shall have owed him service,
or labor due from the party claimed. If Jim Gray owed service, or
labor, or money, to Phillips, I am the last man in the world to raise
my voice or hand to prevent Phillips, or any man, from obtaining his
dues. What I would grant to the devil himself, I would not withhold
even from the slaveholder--his due. Jim Gray claims that he does not
owe Phillips a day's work or a dollar of money. Phillips claims that
he owes him every day's work that has been deposited in his bones and
sinews; yea, the toil of his body and mind both, till death shall end
the period of stipulated toil. Here is a question for legal
examination and judicial discussion. Does the man Gray owe this man
Phillips any thing? The Constitution is very clear and very plain in
pointing out the way this question is to be settled.

Article V. provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty
or property without due process of law. That Jim Gray is a person, is
admitted on all hands. Phillips admits it; the blood-hounds, marshals
and attorneys that hunt him, say he is a person--a person held to
service. The amount in dispute is the liberty and life-long toil of a
man just entering into the full maturity of manhood. A great question
lies between these men. But Gray, standing on soil covered by this
Constitution, can be robbed of liberty, or the wages of his toil, only
by due process of law.

Article VII. says, expressly, in suits at common law, when the value
in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury
shall be preserved. Here, sir, is a case involving the question of
liberty, and hundreds of dollars of money. The law, Sir, under which I
appear before you, overrides these plain provisions, and commits this
whole question to one man, and offers him a bribe to trample right and
liberty under foot. I know, Sir, it may be said that Jim Gray was a
slave, and not entitled to these humane provisions. Had he never worn
the chain of the oppressor, nor felt the lash of the bloody
task-master--had he been born in Canada, or any where else on the
globe--had he been a citizen of one of the States of this Union, and
never been enslaved, it would have been all the same. His liberty
would have been stricken down, and he been given to the party claiming
his life-long toil, and your Commissioner would have pocketed the
bribe offered by this law for doing such a crime against humanity and
the plainest provisions of the Constitution.

No sir; in a Court of the United States, where the Constitution
provides for trial by jury, I ought not to be sentenced for raising my
hand to rescue a fellow-man from a mob that would strip him of his
liberty and life-long toil without due process of law, without trial
by jury. Sir, this, law tramples so flagrantly upon the spirit and
letter of the Constitution, that I ought not to be sentenced.

Before passing from the Constitutional objections to this law, I
would call the attention of your Honor to the partiality of the law,
which is so at variance with the designs of the Fathers in organizing
this Government. No man can read the Constitution--in which the word
slave cannot be found; from which the idea that a man could be reduced
to a thing, and held as property, was carefully excluded--no man, I
say, can read that Constitution, and come to the conclusion that
slavery was to be _fostered, guaranteed_ and _protected_ far beyond
every thing else in the country. Admit that Jim Gray was Phillips's
property, how comes it that that particular property is more sacred
than any other property? Phillips's horse escapes from him, and is
found in a distant State; but the President of the United States, and
every department of Government, are not put on the track to find the
horse, and return him to Phillips's stable, and then pay the whole
bill from the National Treasury. No, Sir. But his slave escapes--he
runs away, and, for some reason, his property in man is so much more
holy and sacred, that the whole Government is bound to take the track
and hunt, the poor panting fugitive down, and carry him back to his
chains and bondage at the Government's expense.

Sir, under a Constitution unstained by the word slave, we have a law
magnifying slave property above all other property in the nation--a
law giving it guarantees that no other property could possibly obtain.
Sir, the partiality of this law is so great, that it stands opposed to
a Constitution that guarantees equal justice and protection to all.

John G. Fee is driven out of his Kentucky home, and robbed of the
fruits of his life-long toil. There is no power to secure him his
home, or protect him in his rights of property or opinion. But had
John G. Fee only owned a slave, and his slave escaped, the Government,
under this law, would have followed his slave to the utmost limit of
the United States, and returned his slave to him at its own expense.
Your Honor will pardon me, (if I need pardon,) but I cannot, for the
life of me, see what there is in robbing a man of his inalienable
rights and enslaving him for life, that should entitle it to the
special and peculiar protection of national law.

I am aware, Sir, that I shall be reminded that judges, marshals,
attorneys, and many citizens, regard this law as Constitutional, and
stand ready to execute it, though it trample every principle of the
Declaration of Independence in the dust. Sir, no law can be enacted so
bad but that it will find men deluded or base enough to execute it.
The law of Egypt that consigned the new-born babe to the slaughter
found tools for its execution. The bloody decree of Herod found men
ready to obey the law of the country, though it commanded the
slaughter of the innocents of a province, Sir, tell me not of men
ready and willing to execute the law! My Redeemer, whose name I am
hardly worthy to speak, and yet whose name is all my trust, although
he knew no sin, yet he was crucified by law.

Again, Sir, it will be said that some whom the world calls Doctors of
Divinity and Doctors of Law have undertaken to prove that slavery was
guaranteed by the Constitution. If that be so, in the name of the Most
High God, tear out the red strip of blood; it was not written by the
Angel Gabriel, nor nailed to the throne of the Almighty. If slavery is
in it, it is "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell."

But, Sir, I have one consideration more that I will urge why sentence
ought not to be pronounced against me. This law, which I think I have
proved outrageous to the rights of man, is so obviously at variance
with the law of that God who commands me to love Him with all my soul,
mind, might and strength, and my neighbor as myself, and the Redeemer
who took upon him my nature and the nature of poor Jim Gray has been
so particular in telling me who my neighbor is, that the path of duty
is plain to me. This law so plainly tramples upon the divine law, that
it cannot be binding upon any human being under any circumstances to
obey it. The law that bids me do to other men as I would have other
men do to me, is too plain, too simple to be misunderstood. But, Sir,
I am not now left to the general law of love in searching for my duty
in this particular case. Permit me to refer your Honor to the oldest
law-book in existence. Though it may not be in use in this Court, yet
I think it better authority than Blackstone or any law-book that ever
was written. It is the book of books. In that book, I find some
special enactments given to the Hebrew commonwealth, that leave me in
no doubt as to my duty in reference to this law. "He that stealeth a
man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hands, he shall surely
be put to death." Again: "Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the
servant that has escaped from his master unto thee; he shall dwell
with thee, even among you, in that place he shall choose in one of thy
gates where it liketh him best; thou shalt not oppress him." These
plain statutes, with many more that I might give, leave me in no doubt
as to the mind of the unchanging Jehovah, in reference to man-stealing
and slave-hunting. Sir, the whole system of slavery originated in
man-stealing, and is perpetuated by fraud and violence and plunder.
Others may have their doubts as to their duty under this law; I, Sir,
have none. This law is just as binding on me as was the law of Egypt
to slaughter Hebrew children; just as binding as the law that said,
Worship the golden image, worship not God; just as binding as the law
forbidding Christ and his Apostles to preach the Gospel. Send me a law
bidding me rob or murder my neighbor, I must decline to obey it. I can
suffer, but I must not do wrong. Send me a law bidding me join hands
in robbing my fellow-men of their freedom, I cannot do so great a
wrong. Yea, send me a law bidding me stop my ears to the cry of the
poor, I can suffer the loss of all these hands have earned, I can
suffer bonds and imprisonment--yes, God helping me, I can give up my
life--but I cannot knowingly trample upon the law of my God, nor upon
the bleeding, prostrate form of my fellow-man. I go not to Missouri to
relieve oppressed humanity, for my duty has called me nearer home; but
when He that directs the steps of man conducts a poor, oppressed,
panting fugitive to my door, and there I hear his bitter cry, I dare
not close my ear against it, lest in my extremity I cry for mercy, and
shall not be heard. Sir, this law so flagrantly outrages the divine
law, that I ought not to be sentenced under it.

A single remark, and I have done. From the testimony, (part of which
is false,) and from your rendering and interpretation of the law, the
jury have found me guilty; yes, guilty of carrying out the great
principles of the Declaration of Independence; yes, guilty of carrying
out the still greater principles of the Son of God. Great God! can
these things be? Can it be possible? What country is this? Can it be
that I live in a land boasting of freedom, of morality, of
Christianity? How long, O, how long shall the people bow down and
worship this great image set up in this nation? Yes, the jury say
guilty, but recommend me to the mercy of the Court. Mercy, Sir, is
kindness to the guilty. I am guilty of no crime, I therefore ask for
no mercy. No, Sir, I ask for no mercy; I ask for justice. Mercy is
what I ask of my God. Justice in the Courts of my adopted country is
all I ask. It is the inhuman and infamous law that is wrong, not me.

My feelings are at my home. My wife and my children are dear to my
heart. But, Sir, I have counted the cost. I am ready to die, if need
be, for the oppressed of my race. But slavery must die; and when my
country shall have passed through the terrible conflict which the
destruction of slavery must cost, and when the history of the great
struggle shall be candidly written, the rescuers of Jim Gray will be
considered as having done honor to God, to humanity, and to

I am told there is no appeal from this Court; yet I do appeal to the
Court of High Heaven, when Judge Drummond and Judge Caton, the rescuer
and the rescued, shall all have to stand at the judgment-seat of the
Most High.

I have, Sir, endeavored to obey the Divine law and all the laws of my
country that do not conflict with the laws of my God. My humble wish
is, that it may then appear that I have done my duty. All I wish to be
written on my tomb-stone is, "He feared God and loved his fellow-men."

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Speech of John Hossack, Convicted of a Violation of the Fugitive Slave Law - Before Judge Drummond, Of The United States District Court, Chicago, Ill." ***

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