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Title: A Letter to the Hon. Samuel A. Eliot, Representative in Congress From the City of Boston, In Reply to His Apology For Voting For the Fugitive Slave Bill.
Author: Dexter, Franklin, 1793-1857
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "A Letter to the Hon. Samuel A. Eliot, Representative in Congress From the City of Boston, In Reply to His Apology For Voting For the Fugitive Slave Bill." ***




in reply to his









An English courtier procured a colonial judgeship for a young dependant
wholly ignorant of law. The new functionary, on parting with his patron,
received from him the following sage advice,--"Be careful never to
assign reasons, for whether your judgments be right or wrong, your
reasons will certainly be bad." You have cause to regret that some
friend had not been equally provident of your reputation, and intimated
that it was only expected of you to vote for Mr. Webster's measures, but
by no means to assist him in vindicating them. You did, indeed, vote
precisely as those who procured your nomination intended you should;
yet, on your return home, you found your name had become a byword and a
reproach in your native State. Another election approached, but you
declined submitting your recent course to the judgment of the electors,
and withdrew from the canvass. But although the people were thus
prevented from voting against you, they persisted in speaking and
writing against you. Anxious to relieve yourself from the load of
obloquy by which you were oppressed, in an evil hour you rashly appealed
to the public through the columns of a newspaper, and gave the "reasons"
of your vote for the Fugitive Slave Law. You had a high and recent
example of the kind of logic suited to your case. You might have
indulged in transcendental nonsense, and talked about the climate,
soil, and scenery of New England and the wonders of physical geography,
and, assuming that negroes were created free, you might have contended
that, in voting for a law to catch and enslave them, you had avoided the
folly of reënacting the law of God. Reasons of this sort, you and others
had declared, "had convinced the understanding and touched the
conscience of the nation." Instead of following an example so
illustrious and successful, you assign "reasons" so very commonplace,
that the most ordinary capacity can understand them, and so feeble, that
the slightest strength can overthrow them.

Your first "reason" is, that the delivery of fugitives is a
constitutional obligation. By this you mean, that, by virtue of the
construction of a certain clause in the Constitution by the Supreme
Court, Congress has the power to pass a law for the recovery of fugitive
slaves. Well, Sir, does this constitutional obligation authorize
Congress to pass _any_ law whatsoever on the subject, however atrocious
and wicked? Had you voted for a law to prevent smuggling, in which you
had authorized every tide-waiter to shoot any person suspected of having
contraband goods in his possession, would it have been a good "reason"
for such an atrocity, that the collection of duties was "a
constitutional obligation"? You are condemned for voting for an
arbitrary, detestable, diabolical law,--one that tramples upon the
rights of conscience, outrages the feelings of humanity, discards the
rules of evidence, levels all the barriers erected by the common law for
the protection of personal liberty, and, in defiance of the
Constitution, and against its express provisions, gives to the courts
the appointment of legions of slave-catching judges. And your "reason"
for all this is, that the delivery of fugitives is "a constitutional
obligation"! The "obligation" is not in issue. Please to understand,
Sir, that it is not denied. It is for the _manner_ in which you profess
to have discharged the obligation that you are censured, and be it
remembered, that not one of the obnoxious provisions of your law is
required by the Constitution. You go on and attempt to enlighten your
constituents as to the history of this constitutional obligation. As the
obligation affords you no apology for the iniquitous features of your
law, its history is, of course, mere surplusage, and serves no other
purpose than to divert the attention of your readers from yourself.
About two thirds of your apology is occupied with an historical
disquisition, which has as much to do with your vindication as the
question respecting the existence of a lunar atmosphere. I will not,
however, withhold from you whatever benefit you may derive from either
your logic or your history, but will give each a fair and honest
examination. You inform the public that, at the time the Constitution
was formed,

     "Slavery had been abolished in some of the States, and still
     existed in others. Here seemed an insurmountable incompatibility of
     interests, and nothing perplexed the wise men of that day--and they
     were _very_ wise men--so much as this topic. At last they agreed
     that the new Constitution should have nothing to do with it; that
     the word _slavery_ should not be mentioned in it, and that it
     should be left to the States themselves to establish, retain, or
     abolish it, just as much after the adoption of the Constitution as
     before. But in order to secure the existence of the institution to
     those States who preferred it, it was agreed that the persons
     escaping from labor to which they were bound, in one commonwealth,
     and found in another, should be returned to the State from which
     they had fled. The provision was necessary for the preservation of
     this interest _in statu quo_. It did not extend slavery. It kept it
     where it already was, and where it could not have continued if
     every slave who escaped North was at once free and irreclaimable.
     The members of the confederacy from the South saw this distinctly,
     and _deliberately declared_ that they could not and would not enter
     a union with States who would tempt away their slaves with the
     prospect of immediate and permanent freedom.... The Constitution
     was adopted with this provision, and it could not have been adopted
     without it."

Thus we learn from you, Sir, that when the Constitution was formed,
"slavery had been abolished in some of the States." It is a pity you did
not vouchsafe to tell us which of the States had thus early and
honorably distinguished themselves. Of the thirteen American States in
1787, how many, Sir, had _by law_ abolished slavery? NOT ONE. Your "some
States" consisted of MASSACHUSETTS alone. And how was slavery abolished
there? Not by any express prohibition in her constitution, nor by any
act of her legislature. Fortunately, her constitution, like that of most
other States, contained a general declaration of human rights, somewhat
similar to the "rhetorical abstraction" in the Declaration of
Independence. Two or three years before the Federal Convention
assembled, a young lawyer, perceiving that the declaration in the
constitution had inadvertently made no exclusion of the rights of men
with dark complexions, brought an action for a slave against his master
for work done and performed. An upright and independent court, not
having the fear of our Southern brethren before their eyes, decided that
the slave was a MAN, and therefore entitled to the rights which the
constitution declared belonged to _all_ men, and gave judgment for the
plaintiff. In this way, Sir, was slavery abolished in Massachusetts, and
hence the delegates from Massachusetts in the Convention were the only
ones who represented a _free_ State. And now, Sir, what becomes of your
"insurmountable incompatibility of interests" arising from the fact that
"slavery had been abolished in some States and still existed in others,"
which you tell us so much perplexed the wise men of that day? We shall
see, Sir, that on questions touching human bondage the Massachusetts
delegation seem to have been slaveholders in heart, and did not partake
of the perplexity which troubled the wise men. With the exception of
that delegation, there were not probably half a dozen members of the
convention who were not slaveholders.

It would seem from your historical review, that the clause in the
Constitution respecting fugitive slaves was the grand compromise
between the North and the South, without which "the Constitution could
not have been adopted"; and that to this clause we owe our glorious
slave-catching Union. You fortify this wonderful historical discovery by
appealing to the "deliberate declarations" of Southern members, that
they "would not enter a union with States who would tempt away their
slaves," &c. It is to be regretted that you have not deemed it expedient
to refer to the records of these declarations, as other students of our
constitutional history are wholly ignorant of them. Suffer me, Sir, to
enter into a few historical details, for the purpose of vindicating the
liberty I take to differ with you as to the accuracy of your statements.

The Convention met in Philadelphia, 25th May, 1787. On the 29th of the
same month, Mr. Randolph, of Virginia, submitted a plan of government.
It contained no allusion to fugitive slaves. On the same day, Mr.
Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, submitted another plan. This last
provided for the surrender of fugitive criminals, but was silent about
fugitive slaves. On the 15th of June, Mr. Patterson, of New Jersey,
submitted a third plan. This also provided for the surrender of
fugitives from justice, but not from bondage. On the 18th, Mr. Hamilton
announced his plan, but the fugitive slave found no place in it. On the
26th of June, the Convention, having agreed on the general features of
the proposed Constitution in the form of resolutions, referred them to
"a committee of detail," for the purpose of reducing them to the form of
a Constitution. In these resolutions, there was not the most distant
allusion to fugitive slaves. On the 6th of August, the committee
reported the draft of a Constitution, and yet, strange as you may deem
it, the provision without which, you tell us, the Constitution could not
have been adopted, was not in it, although there was in it a provision
for the surrender of fugitive criminals. For three months had the
Convention been in session, and not one syllable had been uttered about
fugitive slaves. At last, on the 29th of August, as we learn from the
minutes, "It was moved and seconded to agree to the following
proposition, to be inserted after the 15th article: 'If any person,
bound to service or labor in any of the United States, shall escape into
another State, he or she shall not be discharged from such service or
labor in consequence of any regulation subsisting in the State to which
they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly claiming
their service or labor,' _which passed unanimously_." Really, Sir, I
find in this record but little evidence of the perplexity which
distressed our wise men, or of the great compromise between the North
and South, on which you dwell. The 15th article, referred to above, was
the article providing for the surrender of fugitives from justice, and
this suggested the idea, that it would be well to provide, also, for the
surrender of fugitive slaves. In an assembly consisting almost
exclusively of slaveholders, the idea was exceedingly relished; and
without a word of opposition, the suggestion was unanimously adopted.
From Mr. Madison's report we learn that, the day before, Messrs. Butler
and Pinckney had informally proposed that fugitive slaves and servants
should be delivered up "like criminals." "Mr. Wilson [of Penn.]. This
would oblige the Executive of the State to do it at the public expense.
Mr. Sherman [of Conn.] saw no more propriety in the public seizing and
surrendering a slave or servant than a horse." (_Madison Papers_, p.
1447.) The subject was here dropped. The next day the motion was made in
form, and, as Mr. Madison says, "agreed to, _nem. con._" From the
phraseology of the motion, and the objections of Messrs. Wilson and
Sherman, it was perfectly understood that the obligation of delivery was
imposed on the States, and that no power was intended to be conferred on
Congress to legislate on the subject. Messrs. Wilson and Sherman's
objections arose from no moral repugnance to slave-catching, but from
the inconvenience they apprehended the _State_ authorities would be
subjected to; and Mr. Wilson perhaps spoke from experience, as his own
State had at that very time a law for catching and returning fugitive
slaves from other States. The idea, therefore, that this agreement was a
_compromise_ between the North and South is wholly imaginary, and you,
Sir, must have mistaken some recent fulminations from the Southern
chivalry for the "deliberate declarations" which you suppose were made
in the Convention. Believe me, Sir, no members of the Convention ever
declared they would not enter into the Union, unless it was agreed to
surrender fugitive slaves, for the obvious reason, that the Northern
slaveholders required no threats from their Southern brethren to consent
to a compact convenient to both. It is very true, Sir, that there were
compromises, and that there were "deliberate declarations," but they had
no reference to the surrender of runaway slaves. I have pointed out your
historical mistake, not because it has the remotest bearing on your
justification, but because you seem to think that it has.

The first great compromise was between, not the North and the South, but
the small and the large States. The one claimed, and the other refused,
an equality of suffrage in the national legislature. It was at last
agreed, that the suffrage should be equal in one house, and according to
population in the other. This was the first compromise. Then came the
question, What should constitute the representative population? The
Southern States had more slaves than the Northern, and the former
insisted that slaves should be included in the representative
population. This would have given the Southern States an unfair
preponderance in Congress. Moreover, a portion of the Southern States
were engaged in the African slave-trade, and, of course, every slave
landed on their shores would increase their political power in Congress.
To reconcile the North to slave representation, it was offered that
_direct taxation_ should be proportioned to representation. But the
North was reluctant, and, as usual, was bullied into a compromise. Mr.
Davie, of North Carolina, made a "deliberate declaration":--"He was
sure that North Carolina would never confederate on any terms that did
not rate them (the slaves) at least as three fifths. If the Eastern
States meant, therefore, to exclude them (the slaves) altogether, the
business was at an end." (_Madison Papers_, p. 1081.) This threat, and
others like it, settled the matter. The compromise, of three fifths of
the slaves to be included in the representative population, was accepted
on the motion of _a New England member_; and the consequence is, that
the slave States have now twenty-one members in the lower house of
Congress more than they are entitled to by their free population. This
was the second compromise. There was still a third, far more wicked and
detestable, and effected by the "deliberate declarations" of Southern
members. The "committee of detail" has been already mentioned. It
consisted of Messrs. Rutledge of South Carolina, Randolph of Virginia,
Wilson of Pennsylvania, Ellsworth of Connecticut, and Gorham of
Massachusetts. This committee, it will be recollected, were to reduce to
the _form_ of a Constitution the resolutions agreed on by the
Convention. Neither in the resolutions themselves, nor in the
discussions which preceded their adoption, had any reference been made
to a guarantee for the continuance of the African slave-trade.
Nevertheless, this committee, of their own will and pleasure, inserted
in their draft the following clause:--"No tax or duty shall be laid by
the legislature on articles exported from any State, _nor on the
migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall
think proper to admit, nor shall such migration or importation be
prohibited_." To understand the cunning wickedness of this clause, it
must be recollected that Congress was to have power to regulate foreign
commerce, and commerce between the States; and hence it might, at a
future time, suppress both the foreign and domestic commerce in human
flesh, or it might burden this commerce with duties. Hence this artfully
expressed perpetual restriction on the power of Congress to interfere
with the traffic in human beings. As this grand scheme was concocted in
the committee, and not in the Convention, it may be interesting to
inquire into its paternity.

In the debates which ensued on this clause, Mr. Ellsworth, one of the
committee who reported it, "was for leaving the clause as it now stands.
_Let every State import what it pleases._ The morality or wisdom of
slavery are considerations belonging to the States themselves. _What
enriches a part enriches the whole_, and the States are the best judges
of their particular interests. The old Confederation had not _meddled_
with this point, and he did not see any greater necessity for bringing
it within the policy of the new one." "As slaves multiply so fast in
Virginia and Maryland that it is _cheaper_ to raise than to import them,
whilst in the _sickly_ rice-swamps foreign supplies are _necessary_, if
we go no farther than is urged [a proposal to permit the trade for a
limited time], we shall be unjust towards South Carolina and Georgia.
Let us not intermeddle." (_Madison Papers_, pp. 1389, 1391.) This
gentleman was one of your "very wise men"; and his mantle has recently
fallen upon other wise men from the East. Mr. Wilson, another member of
the committee, objected. "All articles imported," said he, "are to be
taxed; slaves alone are exempt. This is, in fact, a bounty on that
article." The clause was referred to another committee, who modified it,
by limiting the restriction to 1800. It was moved to guarantee the
slave-trade for twenty years, by postponing the restriction to 1808.
This motion was _seconded_ by Mr. Gorham, another member of the
committee. Mr. Randolph, also of the committee, was against the
slave-trade, and opposed to any restriction on the power of Congress to
suppress it. Two of the committee, then, we find, were against the
trade, and three, Messrs. Rutledge, Ellsworth, and Gorham, for
perpetuating it. And now, Sir, what were the inducements which prevailed
on the two wise men from the East to yield their consent to a
proposition so wicked and abominable? We are, of course, not informed
what passed in the committee, but we can well imagine, from the language
used by the chairman and others in the Convention. Said Mr. Rutledge,
"If the Convention thinks North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia
will ever agree to this plan [the Federal Constitution] unless their
right to import slaves be untouched, the expectation is VAIN. The people
of those States will never be such fools as to give up so important an
interest." In other words, "Gentlemen of the North, no Union without the
African slave-trade." Said Mr. Charles Pinckney, "South Carolina can
never receive the plan [of the Constitution] if it prohibits the
slave-trade. In every proposed extension of the powers of Congress, that
State has expressly and watchfully excepted that of meddling with the
importation of negroes." (_Madison Papers_, p. 1389.) Mr. Charles C.
Pinckney "thought himself bound to declare candidly, that he did not
think South Carolina would stop her importations of slaves in any short
time." Thus you see, Sir, that the "deliberate declarations" to which
you allude were made in reference to the continuance of the African
slave-trade, and not, as you suppose, to the catching of fugitive
slaves. Two New England gentlemen of the committee yielded to these
declarations, and sacrificed conscience and humanity for the sake of the
Union, and the consideration that what enriched a part enriched the
whole. Happily, in this case, Southern bluster was met by Southern
bluster, and it is owing to Virginia, and not to the virtue and
independence of New England, that the Constitution was rescued from the
infamy of granting a solemn and perpetual guarantee to an accursed

In Virginia, the slaves, as Mr. Ellsworth remarked, multiplied so fast,
that it was _cheaper_ to raise than import them. She was then, as now, a
breeding State for the Southern markets. Hence, her delegates were as
ready to bluster for protection, as the South Carolina delegates were
for a free trade in men and women. Of course, the _motives_ assigned
were patriotic, not selfish. Mr. Randolph "could never agree to the
clause as it stands. He would sooner RISK THE CONSTITUTION." (_Madison
Papers_, p. 1396.) Mr. Madison would not consent to the continuance of
the traffic till 1808. "Twenty years will produce all the mischief that
can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term
will be more dishonorable to the American character, than to say nothing
about it in the Constitution." (_Madison Papers_, p. 1427.) Mr. Mason
from Virginia denounced the traffic as "infernal." (_Madison Papers_, p.
1390.) The result of all these threats on each side was, as usual, a
compromise, by which Congress was prohibited from suppressing the
foreign and internal commerce in slaves for twenty years, and was left
at liberty to do as it might see fit, after that period. After twenty
years the foreign trade was suppressed, and North and South Carolina and
Georgia remained in the Union! Virginia, as well as the other Slave
States, is greatly interested in the home slave-trade, and that has
_not_ been suppressed, although Congress has full power over it.

It does not appear from Mr. Madison's report what reply was made in the
Convention to the Virginia objections, but in his speech in the
Convention of his own State, he tells us,--"The gentlemen from South
Carolina and Georgia argued in this manner: We have now liberty to
import this species of property, and much of the property now possessed
had been purchased or otherwise acquired in contemplation of improving
it by the assistance of imported slaves. What would be the consequence
of hindering us in this point? The _slaves_ of Virginia would rise in
value, and we should be obliged to go to your markets." (_Elliott's
Debates_, III. 454.) Certainly, Sir, these South Carolina and Georgia
delegates were "very wise men," and their predictions are now history,
and the planters of Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana
buy slaves of the Virginia breeders. But what shall I say of the wise
men from the East? This horrible compromise, this guarantee of the
African slave-trade for twenty years, was carried by the votes of the
Massachusetts and Connecticut delegates, and would have been defeated,
had they had the courage and virtue to have voted against it.

I have indulged in this long digression, to show that the clause in the
Constitution respecting fugitive slaves was not, as you represent it,
the great compromise of the Constitution, the key-stone of the Union,
and that our slaveholding fathers were not, as you suppose, greatly
perplexed, nor their consciences deeply wounded, by the existence of
slavery in all the States of the confederacy with one exception. Having
disposed of your history, I return to your logic.

Whether the constitutional injunction to surrender fugitive slaves was a
compromise or not, is of no practical importance. The clause speaks for
itself, and prescribes no mode by which the title of the claimant shall
be ascertained, while it expressly implies that the title shall be
established before the surrender is made. Hence, the fair presumption
is, that the title to a MAN shall be proved, with at least as much
certainty and formality as the title to a horse. Had you, Sir, in your
law, provided that a Virginian shall not come to Boston, and there seize
and carry off a husband, wife, or child but by the same process, and on
as strong evidence, as he may now seize and carry off a horse which you
claim as your own, instead of finding your name a byword and a reproach,
you would have been honored and applauded by your fellow-citizens, and
returned to Congress by a triumphant vote; nor is there a syllable in
the Constitution which prohibits or discountenances such a mode of
deciding the title to a human being. It is in vain, then, Sir, that you
plead your "constitutional obligation" in justification of your most
detestable law. But, as if one wrong could justify another, you plead in
your excuse the law of 1793, and you ask in your simplicity of those who
condemn your law if they do not perceive that they are "denouncing their
fathers." Well, Sir, were our fathers infallible? Pity it is, Sir, that
you were not on the floor of Congress when that body declared the
African slave-trade to be PIRACY. You might then, Sir, have risen in
your place, and inquired, "Do you not perceive that you are denouncing
your fathers, who were very wise men, and who guaranteed for twenty
years the very traffic which you now proclaim to be piracy?" Pity it is,
Sir, that you did not stand by the side of your patron on Plymouth Rock,
and whisper in his ear, "Do you not perceive that you are denouncing our
fathers?" when he declared, "In the sight of our law the African
slave-trader is a PIRATE and a FELON, and in the sight of Heaven an
offender beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt." Mr. Webster is
better versed in constitutional history than you are, and he well knew
that some of our fathers "deliberately declared they would not enter a
Union" in which they were to be debarred from pursuing this piratical,
felonious, guilty traffic. Our fathers were mostly slaveholders, and yet
you, Sir, unconsciously denounce both their morality and intelligence,
when you affirm the institution of slavery to be "wrong and unwise." And
yet all who presume to find fault with your cruel, unjust, wicked law
are guilty forsooth of denouncing their fathers!

You tell us that the Convention of 1787 "_agreed that the new
Constitution should have nothing to do with slavery_." I have not been
so fortunate as to find the record of this agreement, but if such a
compact was indeed made, then seldom, if ever, has a solemn covenant
been more grossly and wickedly violated. Is it, Sir, in virtue of this
agreement, that you voted to fine and imprison every conscientious,
humane citizen who may refuse, at the command of a minion of a
commissioner, to join in a slave hunt? Did this agreement confer on the
holders of slaves an enlarged representation in Congress? Was it in
pursuance of this agreement that the importation of slaves was
guaranteed for twenty years? Did this agreement authorize the Federal
government to enter into negotiations with Great Britain and Mexico for
a mutual surrender of runaway slaves? Was it in pursuance of this same
agreement, that our government negotiated with Russia and Spain to
prevent emancipation in Cuba,--a traitorous conspiracy with despots
against the rights of man? How, Sir, was this agreement illustrated,
when Daniel Webster, as Secretary of State under John Tyler of glorious
memory, made a demand on Great Britain for the surrender of the slaves
of the Creole, who had gallantly achieved their liberty, and taken
refuge in the West Indies? How comes it, Sir, that under this agreement
an act of Congress secures to the Slave States officers in the navy in
proportion to the number of their slaves? How is it, that under this
agreement colored men are seized in the District of Columbia, under "the
exclusive jurisdiction" of the Federal government on the _suspicion_ of
being slaves, and, when that suspicion is rebutted by the non-appearance
of any claimant, are sold as slaves for life, to pay their jail-fees?
Perhaps it would be denouncing our fathers, to say that Messrs. Webster
and Cass may search the archives of Austria in vain for any act so
utterly diabolical as this, perpetrated by a government which it was
agreed "should have nothing to do with slavery." Was it to carry out
this famous agreement that the Federal government officially declared
through its Secretary, Mr. Calhoun, that Texas was annexed to preserve
the institution of slavery from the perils that threatened it?

Once more, Sir. We all know that the slaveholders regard the free blacks
as dangerous to the subordination of their slaves, and are contemplating
their forcible removal. Think you, Sir, Mr. Webster was mindful of the
agreement you have discovered, when, on the 7th of last March, in his
place in the Senate, he proposed his magnificent scheme of taxing the
whole nation untold millions to give additional security to property in
human beings? "If," said the Massachusetts Senator, "any gentleman from
the _South_ shall propose a scheme of colonization to be carried on by
_this government_ upon a large scale, for the transportation of free
colored people to any colony or _any place in the world_, I should be
quite disposed to incur almost any degree of expense to accomplish the
object." The magnitude of the scheme, and the cost at which it is to be
accomplished, are thus hinted:--"There have been received into the
treasury of the United States EIGHTY MILLIONS of dollars, the proceeds
of the sales of the public lands ceded by Virginia. If the residue
should be sold at the same rate, the whole aggregate will exceed TWO
HUNDRED MILLIONS of dollars. If _Virginia and the South_ see fit to
adopt any proposition to _relieve_ themselves from the free people of
color among them, they have my free consent that the _government_ shall
pay _them_ any sum of money out of the proceeds which may be adequate
for the purpose." Will you, Sir, please to point out the article of the
agreement of 1787, which, while it restricts Congress from having any
thing to do with slavery, sanctions an appropriation not exceeding two
hundred millions of dollars, for the purpose of strengthening the
institution of slavery, by _relieving_ the slaveholders from the
presence of free people of color, and forcibly transporting to any place
in the world hundreds of thousands of native-born Americans, who have as
good a constitutional right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and
happiness on their native soil, as Mr. Webster himself? Mr. Webster, it
seems, now views the subject of negro colonization in precisely the same
light that he did thirty years since, although his _intentions_ on this,
as on various other points, have undergone marvellous changes. We learn
from a Massachusetts paper (_Congregationalist_, 6 July, 1849), that
this gentleman was in 1822 appointed by a public meeting to draft a
constitution for the State Colonization Society. After considerable
discussion in the committee he rose and said, "I must leave. I
understand the whole project. It is a scheme of the slaveholders to get
rid of their free negroes. I will have nothing to do with it."

And how, Sir, as a member of Congress, have _you_ fulfilled this
agreement to have nothing to do with slavery? Not only have you required
"good citizens," when commanded, to hunt and catch slaves, but you have
even fixed a money value on every slave. If a master fails to recover
his fugitive slave through the agency, "direct or indirect," of any
citizen, you give him an action for damages. In all other cases of
trespass, the damages sustained by the plaintiff are assessed by a jury
according to the evidence. You kindly save the master the trouble of
proving the value of his lost property, and give him out of the pockets
of the defendant $1,000, no matter whether the slave was sick or well,
young or old. If a woman escapes with a child at the breast, the master
is to have $2,000! Recollect, Sir, this is for _damages_ to the
slaveholder; the trespasser is to pay to the government, which was to
have nothing to do with slavery, another thousand dollars, and to be
incarcerated six months. Either, Sir, you have wholly mistaken the
nature of the "agreement," or the slaveholders, through the aid of their
Northern auxiliaries, have, in defiance of the agreement, rendered the
Federal government a mighty engine in protecting, extending, and
perpetuating the stupendous iniquity of human bondage.

Your first excuse for voting for the recent slave-catching law, after
relying on your "constitutional obligation," is, that it is
"_practically more favorable to the fugitive than the law of 1793_"!!!
The Southern lawyers, then, who drafted the bill, were a set of
blunderers, and your constituents are blockheads for blaming you for
legislating against human rights, when, in fact, you were loosening the
bonds of the oppressed, and facilitating escape from the prison-house.
Your assertion may well excite astonishment at the South as well as the
North, till your _proof_ is known, and then, indeed, astonishment will
be exchanged for ridicule. You tell us, "the _evidence_ of such an
assertion may be found in the fact, that by the old law every magistrate
in Massachusetts, amounting to several hundreds, and so in the other
States, were authorized and required to cause the arrest of any
fugitive, examine into his case, and deliver him to the claimant, if he
was proved to be a slave; while under the new law that power is
_limited_ to the justices of the United States' courts, and to the
commissioners appointed by them, not exceeding, perhaps, on an average,
six or eight persons in each State." So it seems the slave-catchers had
formerly no difficulty in finding a magistrate among hundreds to aid
them, but that now, before they hunt a slave, they must hunt and catch a
United States judge, or a commissioner of six or eight in a whole State.
Truly a hard case, and yet the slaveholders themselves set the very trap
in which they have been caught, and thus it is that, through their
folly, and your generosity in not pointing out to them the blunder they
were committing, the new law is more favorable to the fugitive than the
old one. Surely, Sir, it could not have been more perilous to the young
West Indian judge to meddle with "reasons," than it is for you. Either,
Sir, you voted for the law without reading it, or you have forgotten its
provision. Be assured, the Southern lawyers were as well acquainted as
yourself with the fact, that a few individuals, termed "commissioners,"
had been appointed by the United States courts to perform certain
ministerial acts; and that, as these men were now to be promoted to the
office of slave-catching judges, they would be wholly inadequate in
number to lend efficient aid to the hunters of men. Hence, they inserted
in the third section of the bill, the following enactment, which has
strangely escaped your recollection, viz.:--"And it is further enacted,
that the Circuit Courts of the United States, and the Superior Courts of
_each_ organized Territory of the United States, SHALL from time to time
ENLARGE THE NUMBER OF COMMISSIONERS with a view to afford reasonable
facilities to reclaim fugitives from labor, and to the prompt discharge
of the duties imposed by this act." So that, instead of six or eight
commissioners in a State, we are to have as many hundreds, if needed.
Nor is this all. By the second section, the power possessed by the
Circuit Courts to appoint commissioners is for the first time conferred
on the _Territorial_ courts, so that there shall be no lack of
slave-catching judges in Oregon, Utah, and New Mexico. Instead of your
six or eight commissioners in a State, your law contemplates that there
shall be one or more in _each county_; for the fifth section provides,
that, "the better to enable the said commissioners to execute their
duties faithfully and efficiently, ... they are hereby authorized and
empowered, within their _counties respectively_," to appoint one or more
persons to execute their warrants. So it seems we are to have an
unlimited number of judges and executioners. These executioners,
expressly appointed to catch slaves, and of course among the most
worthless and degraded of the community, are one and all invested with
the power of a high sheriff to call out the _posse comitatus_, not
merely in his own county, but in every hamlet in the State, and require
"good citizens," under pain of fine and imprisonment, to join him in his
execrable hunt. Really, Sir, your "evidence" that the new law is more
favorable to the fugitive than the old one falls short of demonstration.

You thus apologize for not giving the alleged fugitive a trial by jury.
"There was no more trial by jury provided for under the old law than
under the new law. The claim of a jury trial is entirely _new_; never
thought of till modern discussions of the subject begun. For fifty-seven
years our fathers and we have been living under the laws which provided
no such thing, and now one which makes no such provision is denounced in
unmeasured terms as cruel and inhuman. Where have we all been living for
half a century?" Surely, Sir, it is a most logical reason for not
changing a wicked law, that it has been in force for fifty-seven years.
Strange that the legislators of Massachusetts did not perceive the force
of this reasoning when they abolished the laws for hanging witches and
whipping Quakers. Permit me, Sir, to ask, Where had _you_ been living
when _you_ declared it to be the _duty_ of Congress to give the fugitive
a trial by jury, although for fifty-seven years such a trial had been
denied him? You probably forgot, Sir, when giving the above "reason,"
that, not long before you took your seat in Congress, you had, as a
member of the Massachusetts Legislature, voted for the following
resolution, viz.:--"We hold it to be the duty of that body [Congress] to
pass such laws only in regard thereto as will be maintained by the
public sentiment of the free States, where such laws are to be enforced,
and which shall especially secure all persons, whose surrender may be
claimed as having escaped from labor and service in other States, the
right of having the validity of such claim determined by a jury in the
State where such claim is made." So it seems that, while in Boston, you
esteemed it the _especial duty_ of Congress to grant the fugitive a
trial by jury, but that in the atmosphere of Washington you acquired new
views of moral philosophy.

Suffer me, Sir, also to inquire, Where had Mr. Webster been "living for
half a century," when, on the 3d of last June, he introduced into the
Senate a bill amendatory of the act of 1793, granting the alleged
fugitive a trial by jury whenever he shall make oath that he is not the
slave of the claimant?

Another of your "reasons" is, that your law does _not_ suspend the
_habeas corpus_, and in proof of its innocence in this respect, you
refer to the opinion of "legal authority of the highest kind," viz. Mr.
Crittenden, of Kentucky. It is very true that the words _habeas corpus_
are omitted in your law, as the word _slave_ is in the Constitution, but
in neither case is the omission of any practical importance. You must be
aware, Sir, that whenever a person is in the custody of another, if
sufficient ground be shown to render it probable that the custody is
illegal, the writ is granted as a matter of right. But why is it
granted? That the court may at its discretion, according to
circumstances, remand or discharge the prisoner. Take away from the
court the discretionary power to discharge, and the writ is rendered an
idle form. Your law, you say, does not suspend the _habeas corpus_; it
is guiltless of such an enormity. A man who is carrying off one of our
citizens in chains, may indeed be served with the writ, and he brings
his prisoner before the court, and he produces a paper for which he paid
$10, and reads from your law, that this paper, called a certificate,
"shall be conclusive," and "shall prevent all molestation of said person
or persons by any _process_ issued by any court, judge, or magistrate,
or other person whomsoever." It is because the word _process_, instead
of _habeas corpus_, is used, that your law does not suspend the writ of
freedom! In vain may the prisoner plead that he is not the person
mentioned in the certificate; in vain may he offer to show that the
certificate is a forgery; in vain may he urge that the man who signed
the certificate was not a commissioner. The little piece of paper
costing ten dollars is to save the slave-catcher from "all molestation,"
not because the writ of _habeas corpus_ is suspended,--O, no! but in
consequence of the words "any process"!

You refer to two objections, which you say are made to your law, and
endeavour to refute them; viz. the onerous obligations imposed upon the
marshal, and the penalties attached to an attempt "to assist in the
rescue of the slave after he has been proved to be such." You have
evinced your discretion in confining yourself to only four objections
made to your law; viz. the denial of a jury trial, the suspension of the
_habeas corpus_, the duties of the marshal, and the penalties imposed on
an attempt to rescue the slave _after_ judgment. With what success, and
with what "reasons," you have combated the first two has already been
seen. As to the last two, they scarcely merit an answer, and hence you
have selected them. If the obligations of the marshal are onerous, he
has voluntarily assumed them by accepting the office. If, in a civilized
country, a man attempts forcibly to rescue a prisoner in the custody of
the law, he must expect to be punished. There are many weighty
objections to your law which you have not thought it expedient to
notice. Permit me to supply your omission, and to tell you why your law
is so intensely odious. And here let me again remind you of the true
issue between you and the people. It is not now the constitutional power
of Congress under the decision of the Supreme Court to pass a law for
the recovery of fugitive slaves,--this is conceded. The odium you have
experienced, and against which you have appealed to the public, is
caused by your having voted for a law which, in its details, violates
the Constitution, and outrages justice and humanity. Throughout your
long and labored apology, you avoid grappling with these charges. You
vindicate the denial of a jury trial only on the ground that it has been
denied for fifty-seven years, and on the authority of Mr. Crittenden
affirm that the _habeas corpus_ is not suspended; but you avoid the
constitutional and moral objections urged against your law.

By the Constitution, fugitive slaves are to be restored to those, and
those only, who are legally entitled to their services. The means of
ascertaining whether a man is a slave, whether he has fled from his
master, and whether the claimant is legally entitled to him, are not
defined by the Constitution. It is now intrusted to the discretion of
Congress to specify these means, but of course that discretion ought to
be exercised in accordance with the Constitution, with justice, and with
humanity. The complaint against you is, that you have voted for a law
which outrages them all, and against this complaint you have failed to
offer the shadow of a vindication.

A Virginian comes to Boston, and there seizes one of the inhabitants as
his slave. The man claimed declares the claim to be false and
fraudulent. Here, then, is an issue both of law and of fact between two
men equally entitled to the protection of law; for the man claimed is on
every presumption of law and justice to be regarded as free, till the
contrary is proved. The issue between these two men is, I have said, one
of fact and of law. Is the person seized the man he is said to be? This
is a question of fact. Admitting his identity, is he a slave, and, if
so, does he belong to the claimant? These are both questions of law,
resting upon facts to be proved. Those familiar with the reports of
Southern courts know that the title to slaves is a frequent matter of
litigation, involving intricate questions respecting the validity of
wills, the construction of deeds, the partition of estates, and the
claims of creditors. By carrying a slave into a free State, the owner
forfeits his title to him while there, and cannot reclaim him; and hence
the acts of the claimant himself may be involved in the issue. And now,
Sir, I ask, have you ever known, or can you conceive of, any issue at
law respecting the title to property so awfully momentous to a defendant
as the one we are considering? Were your son or daughter the defendant
in such an issue, would you not rejoice to purchase a favorable judgment
by the contribution of the last cent of your great wealth? Let us, then,
proceed to inquire what provision _you_, in the fear of God and the love
of justice and humanity, have made for the trial of this tremendous
issue,--an issue on the result of which all the hopes of a fellow-man
for the life that is, and for that which is to come, are suspended.

In the first place, What is the pecuniary value of the plaintiff's claim
to _himself_?--for it would be an insult to humanity to estimate in
dollars and cents the blessings of liberty and of the conjugal and
parental relations to the unhappy defendant. You have yourself fixed the
value of the plaintiff's claim at _one thousand dollars_. So far, then,
the issue is, by your own showing, within the constitutional guarantee
of trial by jury in all suits at common law where the matter in
controversy is of the value of _twenty_ dollars. But is the claim made
by the plaintiff "a suit at common law"? What is a _suit_? The Supreme
Court thus answers the question:--"We understand it [a suit] to be the
prosecution or pursuit of some _claim_, demand, or request. In law
language, it is the prosecution of some demand in a court of justice."
(6 _Wheaton_, 407.)

It seems, then, that the Virginian, in claiming an inhabitant of Boston
as his slave, in fact brings _a suit_ against him for services due worth
one thousand dollars. Now remember, Sir, the fugitive is not to be
delivered up, as a mass of flesh, or inanimate matter, belonging to the
claimant, but as a debtor, in the phraseology of your own law, "_owing_
service or labor." The suit is brought for service or labor _due_, and
the Constitution provides that the person so owing service or labor
shall be delivered to him to whom the same is "_due_." And now, is this
suit for service due "a suit at _common law_"? Again let the Supreme
Court answer. "The phrase _common law_, found in this clause [the clause
guaranteeing a jury trial], is used in contradistinction to equity and
admiralty and maritime jurisdiction. It is well known, that, in civil
causes in courts of equity and admiralty, juries do not intervene, and
that courts of equity use the trial by jury only in extraordinary cases,
to inform the conscience of the court. When, therefore, we find that the
amendment requires that the right of trial by jury shall be preserved in
suits at common law, the natural conclusion is, that this distinction
was present to the minds of the framers of the amendment. By _common
law_, they meant what the Constitution denominated, in the third
article, 'law'; not merely suits which the common law recognized among
its old and settled proceedings, but suits in which legal rights were to
be ascertained and determined, in contradistinction to those where
equitable rights alone were recognized, and equitable remedies were
administered.... In a just sense, the amendment, then, may be construed
to embrace _all suits_ which are not of equity and admiralty
jurisdiction, _whatever may be the peculiar form_ which they may assume
to settle legal rights." (3 _Peters_, 446.)

If there be meaning in words, these authorities settle the case, and
your law is in palpable violation of the amendment to the Constitution
securing a trial by jury in suits at common law where the matter in
controversy exceeds twenty dollars in value. Think not, Sir, that I am
misrepresenting the Supreme Court. I know well that the _dicta_ I have
quoted have reference to _white_ men, and that they have been virtually
set aside in decisions respecting black men. I well know, that, in our
model republic, law and justice and morality are all cutaneous. But
admitting that the Supreme Court have stultified themselves, and
virtually denied, that, where a suit was brought for the services of a
_black_ man, the Constitution required a jury trial, recollect, Sir,
that not in one single instance has the court decided that the
Constitution _prohibited_ such a trial. But if not prohibited, then
Congress are permitted to accord such a trial, and _both you and Mr.
Webster have declared that Congress had a right to grant such a trial,
and ought to grant it_. In voting, therefore, for a law denying such a
trial, you made a voluntary surrender to the slaveholder of the security
which such a trial would have afforded to multitudes of your poor,
ignorant, oppressed fellow-men. For this act of cruelty and injustice,
committed against your own late conviction of duty, what is your
justification? Why, that the blacks had been already deprived of the
right of trial by jury fifty-seven years!

Let us now see what tribunal you have substituted for a jury in the
trial of one of the most momentous issues that can engage the attention
of a court of justice. You have provided for the appointment of an
indefinite number of judges, each of whom is to have exclusive
jurisdiction of these issues, and from whose judgment there is to be no
appeal. The Constitution declares, "The judges, both of the Supreme and
inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and
shall, at stated times, receive for their services a compensation, which
shall not be diminished during their continuance in office." These
judges are appointed by the Senate, on the nomination of the President.
Your herd of judges, called commissioners, are appointed by the courts,
and hold office during pleasure, and instead of receiving a salary, are
rewarded by a rule the infamy of which, it is believed, belongs to your
law exclusively,--a rule which doubles their compensation whenever they
decide in favor of the rich plaintiff, and _against_ the poor and
friendless defendant. But perhaps you will deny that these men are
judges; for, if judges, their appointment is palpably unconstitutional.
Let us hear the Supreme Court, at a time when it was deemed expedient to
maintain that the persons who executed the law of 1793 were _judges_.
"It is plain, that, where a claim is made by the owner out of possession
for the delivery of a slave, it must be made, if made at all, _against
some other person_; and inasmuch as the right is a right of property,
capable of being recognized and asserted by proceedings _before a court
of justice between parties adverse to each other_, it constitutes, in
the strictest sense, a _controversy_ between parties, and a case arising
under the Constitution of the United States, within the express
delegation of judicial power given by that instrument." (16 _Peters_,
616.) Hence your commissioners are, in the _strictest sense_, judges,
exercising "judicial power" delegated by the Constitution.

You pronounce Mr. Crittenden "legal authority of the highest kind." This
legal authority understands the sixth section of your law as providing
that each commissioner "shall have judicial power and jurisdiction to
hear, examine, and decide the case in a summary manner." Now, if a man,
having judicial power and jurisdiction to decide controversies between
parties adverse to each other, in controversies arising under the
Constitution and within the express delegation of judicial power given
by that instrument, is not a judge, do tell us who is one. Once more,
Sir, Mr. Crittenden says, "The legal authority of every tribunal of
exclusive jurisdiction, where no appeal lies, is of necessity
conclusive upon every tribunal; and therefore the judgment of the
tribunal created by this act is conclusive upon all other tribunals." So
your commissioner is not only a judge, but he constitutes a tribunal of
exclusive jurisdiction, and his judgment is binding even upon the
Supreme Court of the United States. And yet, Sir, you must deny that
this omnipotent commissioner is a judge, or you must admit, that, in the
mode of his appointment, you have flagrantly violated the Constitution
of your country.

It has been most wickedly asserted by our proslavery presses and our
proslavery politicians, that the surrender of fugitives from labor and
fugitives from justice are similar proceedings. The surrender of a
fugitive slave involves two questions, that of identity and that of
property; and the law makes the decision of the commissioner on both
points final and conclusive upon every State and Federal court in the
land. The surrender of a fugitive criminal involves only the question of
personal identity. The Governor of the State issues his warrant for the
apprehension and delivery of a certain person proved to him to be
charged with felony. If the officer arrests the wrong person, he does it
at his peril, and a writ of _habeas corpus_ would immediately release
the person wrongfully arrested. Again, it is most fraudulently
maintained, that, if the wrong person is by the commissioner adjudged a
slave, he may sue for his freedom in a Southern court! Should he do so,
the exhibition of the commissioner's certificate is by law declared to
be conclusive _upon all tribunals_. But even supposing that a Southern
court, in defiance of law, should go behind the certificate, how is a
free colored person from the North, working under the lash on a
Mississippi plantation, to prove his freedom? How is he to fee a lawyer?
How is he to get into court? If once there, where are his witnesses?
They are his friends and acquaintances of his own color residing in the
North. How are they to be summoned to Mississippi? Should they venture
to enter the State, they would be imprisoned, and perhaps sold into
slavery; or even if permitted to enter the court-room, their testimony
would by law be excluded, against the claims of a white man. How
despicably profligate, then, is the assumption of the advocates of your
law, that any injustice committed under it would be repaired by Southern

It was not enough, it seems, that the wretched defendant in this
momentous issue should be subjected to the jurisdiction of a judge
unknown to the Constitution, holding his office by a prohibited tenure,
incapable of being impeached, and bribed to decide in favor of the
plaintiff by the promise of double fees, but the very trial allowed him
must be a burlesque on all the forms and principles of juridical
justice. The plaintiff, without notice to the defendant, prepares
himself for trial, and when his affidavits or witnesses are all ready,
he seizes the unsuspecting victim in the street, and puts him
_instanter_ on his defence. Had the wretched man been accused of some
atrocious crime, he might have demanded bail, and would have been
permitted to go at large to seek for counsel, to look for witnesses, and
to prepare for trial at some future day, of which he would have due
notice. But no such privilege is allowed a man who is accused of _owing
service_. One of your commissioners has already decided that the law
does not permit him to bail the prisoner. The slave power rides in
triumph over all the barriers erected by the wisdom of ages for the
protection of human rights. The defendant is brought, generally in
irons, before your commissioner judge, who is required "to hear and
determine the case of _the claimant_ in a summary manner." The law seems
not even to imagine the possibility of any defence being made on the
part of the defendant. It makes no provision for such a defence,--no
assignment of counsel, no summons for witnesses. We shall see presently,
that if the plaintiff makes out a _primâ facie_ title, satisfactory to
the commission, it is all the law requires. Let me now call your
attention to the practical working of your diabolical law. A man named
Rose was lately seized at Detroit, and brought before a commissioner as
a fugitive slave. I copy from the newspaper report. "Mr. Joy (counsel
for defendant) moved a postponement of the trial to a future day, to
enable Rose to produce his papers to establish his right to freedom,
which papers he had _sworn_ were in Cincinnati. The counsel for the
claimant denied that the commissioner had any authority under the law to
grant a postponement. The commissioner agreed with the counsel for the
plaintiff, that _he had no authority to postpone the trial_; and he
further declared, that, _even were the papers by which Rose was
manumitted present, he could not under the law receive them in

Utterly devilish as was this decision, it was sound law. The plaintiff
had proved his title satisfactorily, and this being done, the
commissioner was bound by the express words of the law to grant the
certificate. He had no right to admit rebutting evidence. It was
sufficient to prove that the prisoner had been the slave of the
claimant's father, and that the claimant was the heir at law of his
father. This of itself was satisfactory, and therefore the commissioner
had no right to admit in evidence the very deed of manumission granted
by the father to the slave. The framers of the law had been as explicit
as they dared to be. "Upon satisfactory proof being made by deposition
or _affidavit_, to be taken and certified, &c., or by other satisfactory
testimony [of course, in writing, and _ex parte_], and with proof, also
by affidavit, of the _identity_ of the person," &c., the defendant is to
be surrendered. Not a hint is given that any testimony may be received
to rebut the _satisfactory_ proof given by the plaintiff. You have,
moreover, Sir, provided a species of evidence never before heard of in
the trial of an issue. By the tenth section, the claimant may go before
a judge or court in Texas, and there make proof by affidavit that _his_
slave has escaped. Whereupon, the court or judge is to certify that the
proof is satisfactory. A record of this satisfactory proof, together
with a description of the fugitive, is to be made, and a certified
transcript of this record, "being exhibited to any judge, commissioner,
or other officer authorized," &c., "_shall_ be held and taken to be full
and conclusive evidence of the fact of escape, and that the service or
labor of the person escaping is _due_ to the party in such record
mentioned." Here all defence is taken from the defendant. Should he
summon a host of witnesses to prove his freedom, not one could be heard;
should he offer a bill of sale from the claimant to another, it could
not be received; should he produce a deed of manumission, acknowledged
and certified in a Southern court, it would be waste paper. And thus a
man's freedom is to be sacrificed on an affidavit made a thousand miles
off. What, Sir, would you think of a law that would authorize the
seizure and sale of your property to satisfy a debt which any man in
California might think proper to swear, before a Californian judge, was
_due_ from you to him?

Such, Sir, is the _trial_ which you, the representative of Boston, a
descendant of the Pilgrims, and "a gentleman of property and standing,"
have accorded to the poor and oppressed. Did the Constitution require
such a prostitution of justice, such an outrage of humanity, at your
hands? I need not be told that some of your commissioners have not
construed your law as strictly as did the Detroit functionary. Thanks to
the force of public opinion, and to the zeal of some benevolent lawyers,
whose hearts were not padded with cotton, in some instances defendants
have been permitted to call witnesses in their behalf; and some regard
has been paid to the ordinary principles of justice. But in all such
instances, the spirit of the law and the intentions of its framers have
been frustrated.

And now let us listen to your "reason" for justifying all the atrocities
and abominations of your law. You gravely tell us, "The entire
population of the North has acquiesced in the law of 1793, without
thinking itself exposed to the charge of barbarity, and I have only to
say, that I do not think the charge any more just now." Certainly, Sir,
the young colonial judge could not have given a reason less logical or
satisfactory. You must be an inattentive observer of passing events, if
you are ignorant that the law of 1793 has again and again been denounced
as iniquitous, that some of the States have prohibited their officers
from assisting in its execution, that numberless petitions have been
presented to Congress for its repeal, and that you yourself, instead of
acquiescing in it, solemnly declared it to be the duty of Congress so
far to alter the law, as to grant the alleged fugitive a trial by jury.
Yet the law of 1793, wicked as it was, was justice and mercy compared
with yours. The trials under that were almost invariably before judges
of the State courts, not appointed like your commissioners for the vile
and only purpose of reducing their fellow-men to bondage. There judges
were not confined to _ex parte_ evidence, were not compelled to receive
"as full and conclusive" affidavits made in distant States, and by
unknown persons. For the most part, they honestly endeavoured, by a
patient investigation according to the ordinary rules of evidence, and
by holding the plaintiff to strict legal proof, to supply the want of a

David Paul Brown, Esq., of Philadelphia, in a letter of last November,
affirms that for the last thirty years he has been engaged as counsel in
almost every important fugitive case brought before the judges and
courts of Philadelphia, and he tells us, "thanks to those upright and
impartial and independent judges by whom the rights of the parties were
finally determined," he knows of no instance in which a colored person
was, in his opinion, wrongfully surrendered. But he adds, "I have known
HUNDREDS who have been illegally and unjustly claimed." This experienced
lawyer, commenting on your law, justly says it allows "_ex parte_
testimony to be received against the alleged fugitive, which, upon no
principle known to the common law, could be received upon the claim to
a horse or a dog." About four weeks after the date of this letter, Mr.
Brown was called to defend an alleged fugitive "illegally and unjustly
claimed," not before one of the "upright and impartial and independent"
Pennsylvania judges, but before one of your ten-dollar slave-catching
judges. I beg you to mark the result.

On the 21st of December, a colored man was arrested in the street in
Philadelphia, without warrant, and accused of stealing chickens. He was
thrust into a carriage, driven to the State-House, carried into an upper
room, and handcuffed. In this state he was detained till a commissioner
arrived. The name of this executor of your law is worthy of remembrance.
EDWARD D. INGRAHAM ought to be as much endeared to slave-catchers, as
Judge Jeffries was to James the Second.

By some means, the arrest became known, and counsel appeared for the
prisoner. Your commissioner was informed that the prisoner had only been
seized an hour and a half before, and had not heard the charge against
him; that his counsel had had no time to learn the plaintiff's case, nor
to prepare for the defence; that there were persons residing at a
distance, some in New Jersey and some in Wilmington, who would be
important witnesses in his behalf. On these grounds, a motion was made
for a continuance. And what, Sir, do you suppose was the reply made by
the slave-catching judge to this motion? "THE HEARING IS TO BE A SUMMARY
ONE: LET IT PROCEED." No doubt you fully participate in Mr. Webster's
indignation against Austrian barbarity; but see no barbarity in this
accursed proceeding against a _colored_ American. The hearing did
proceed, and James S. Price, on behalf of the plaintiff, swore that the
prisoner was Emery Rice, the man claimed, but knew nothing further about
his being a slave, except that he had seen him riding the claimant's
horse. Had _heard it said_ the prisoner was a slave. This was the amount
of the testimony on behalf of the claimant. Any honest jury, nay, any
honest judge, would instantly have decided in favor of the prisoner.
Not so MR. EDWARD D. INGRAHAM. The counsel for the defendant asked again
for a postponement, and founded the motion on the _oath_ of the
defendant, that he could procure six persons, naming them, to testify to
his freedom. A delay of ONE HOUR was asked for. This was refused, and
the judge(!) sent for a certificate to sign. During the delay thus
occasioned, one of the six persons named by the defendant appeared, and
swore that he had known the prisoner all his life. That he was not Emery
Rice, but Adam Gibson; that he was a freeman, having been manumitted by
the will of his late master. Mr. Brown produced a copy of the will of
the late master, and it so far confirmed the testimony of the witness.
Another person in the crowd now came forward, and swore that he also
knew the prisoner, and that he was a free person, and that he was Adam
Gibson. But all was in vain. The commissioner signed the certificate,
and, with an obtuseness of intellect which marked him as a fit subject
for a commission of lunacy, declared, "He had no doubt of the identity
of the prisoner with the slave Emery Rice, and that _all other
proceedings must be before the courts of Maryland_, whither he would
send him."[1] And so the prisoner, without seeing his wife and children,
whom he had that morning parted from unsuspicious of danger and
unconscious of crime, was hurried off at the expense of our glorious
model republic, under an escort of officers, who delivered him, not to
the courts of Maryland, but to Mr. William S. Knight, the reputed owner.
But Mr. Knight told the officers, "You have brought me a wrong man; this
is not Emery Rice; this man is no slave of mine." And so Adam Gibson
returned to Philadelphia, and is now a living illustration of the
abominable iniquity of one of the most accursed laws to be found in the
statute-book of any civilized nation.

[1] See report in the _New York Tribune_, 25th December, 1850.

You do not think your law more barbarous than that of 1793. Let me
further enlighten you. Judge McLean of the Supreme Court, in his opinion
delivered last May in the case of _Norris_ v. _Newton et al._,
remarks,--"In regard to the arrest of fugitives from labor, the law [act
of 1793] _does not impose any active duties on our citizens generally_";
and he argues in defence of the law, that "it gives no one a just right
to complain; he has only to refrain from an express violation of the
law." In other words, the law only required individuals to be passive
spectators of a horrible outrage, and did not compel them to be active
participators in other men's villany. Now, what says your law? Why, that
every commissioner may appoint as many official slave-catchers as he
pleases, and that each of these menials may "summon and call to their
aid the _by-standers_ or _posse comitatus_ of the proper county, when
necessary to insure a faithful observance of the clause of the
Constitution referred to in conformity with the provisions of this act,
prompt and efficient execution of this law, whenever their services may
be required." And what is the fate you have provided for the "good
citizen," who, believing slavery to be sinful, cannot, in the fear of
God, "aid and assist" in making a fellow-man a slave? Any person "who
shall aid, abet, or assist" the fugitive "directly or indirectly"
(cunning words) to escape from such claimant, as, for instance, refusing
to join in a slave-hunt when required, shall be fined not exceeding
$1,000, be imprisoned six months, and pay the claimant $1,000. I hope,
Sir, you are now able to perceive that your law has a preëminence in
barbarity over its predecessor. And now, Sir, please to recollect, that
party discipline, aided by the influence of Messrs. Webster and Clay,
and the factory and cotton interest of Boston and New York, could not
procure for this atrocious law the votes of _one half_ the members of
the House of Representatives. Of two hundred and thirty-two members,
only one hundred and nine dared to place their names on an enduring and
shameful record, while many basely deserted their seats, fearing alike
to vote either for or against it. You, Sir, following Mr. Webster's
advice, "conquered your prejudices," and in company with _two_ more
Northern Whigs, one of them a native of Virginia, cast your vote for
this bill of abominations. But, although you voted for the law, you do
not wish your constituents to suppose you approved of it. "It will not,
I trust, be inferred from any thing I have said, that I consider the law
which has passed unexceptionable. There are amendments which I strongly
desire to be introduced into it." What are the exceptionable features of
the law, what are the amendments you desire, you refrain from
specifying. But you tell us that you would have labored for these
amendments "had it been possible, but every body knows that it was
_impracticable_." You allude to the _previous question_, which prevented
both discussion and amendments. But why, then, did you vote for an
objectionable bill which could not be amended? Here, again, we have one
of your unfortunate reasons. "I deem conformity to the design of the
Constitution more important than the objectionable details of the bill."
So, by your own confession, had there been no previous question, you
would have swallowed the bill with all its objectionable details, out of
reverence for the _design_ of the Constitution, although that design
neither embraced nor required a single one of those details. Did you,
Sir, vote _against_ the previous question? On this point you are silent,
and the minutes afford no information; but _if_ you did, your vote was a
most remarkable aberration from your proslavery course in Congress.
_After_ the previous question had been seconded, it was moved to lay the
bill on the table. Had this motion been carried, you might have
introduced another bill, omitting the "objectionable details," but you
voted with the slaveholders. The slaveholders then moved that the bill
be read a third time. Had this been lost, there would have been a chance
of correcting the "objectionable details." Again you voted with the
slaveholders, and a third time, also, on the main question.

I will now, Sir, call your attention to the disastrous influence which
your law has exerted on the _moral sense_ of the community. Says
Coleridge, "To dogmatize a crime, that is, to teach it as a doctrine, is
itself a crime." Of this crime of dogmatizing crime, Mr. Webster, and
most of our cotton politicians, and, alas! many of our fashionable,
genteel divines, are guilty; nor are you innocent, Sir, who in your law
require "GOOD citizens" to aid in hunting and enslaving their

In former years, and before Mr. Webster had undergone his metamorphosis,
he thus, in a speech at New York, expressed himself in regard to the
antislavery agitation at the North. "It [slavery] has arrested the
_religious feeling_ of the country; it has taken strong hold of the
consciences of men. He is a rash man indeed, little conversant with
human nature, and especially has he a very erroneous estimate of the
character of the people of this country, who supposes that a feeling of
this kind is _to be trifled with or despised_." This gentleman has
become the rash man shadowed forth in his speech, and is trifling with
and despising the religious feeling of the North. In his street speech
in Boston, in favor of slave-hunting, he avowed that he was well aware
that the return of fugitives "is a topic that must excite prejudices,"
and that the question for Massachusetts to decide was, "whether she will
conquer her own prejudice." In his letter to the citizens of
Newburyport, he sneeringly alludes to the "cry that there is a rule for
the government of public men and private men which is superior to the
Constitution," and he scornfully intimates that Mr. Horace Mann, who had
objected to your law as wicked, would do well "to appeal at once, as
others do, to that high authority which sits enthroned above the
Constitution and the laws"; and he gives an extract from a nameless
English correspondent, in which the writer remarks, "Religion is an
excellent thing except in politics," a maxim exceedingly palatable to
very many of our politicians. Aware that the impiety of this sentiment
was not exactly suited to the meridian of Massachusetts, he says his
friend undoubtedly meant "a fantastical notion of religion." Of course,
he regards the religious prejudice against hunting and enslaving men as
springing from a fantastic notion of religion. Yet, with a strange
fatuity, he confesses that "the teaching of Christ and his Apostles is a
sure guide to duty in _politics_, as in any other concern of life,"
utterly oblivious of the fact, that the "higher law," which he
ridicules, was proclaimed in that very teaching. Christ taught, "Fear
not them [magistrates] who kill the body, but are not able to kill the
soul, but rather fear HIM who is able to destroy both soul and body in
hell." What taught the Apostles? "We must obey God, rather than man."
Such teaching it was, that gave birth to "the noble army of martyrs,"
and this very teaching will induce multitudes of Christians at the
present day to hazard fines and imprisonment rather than obey the wicked
injunctions of your law. It was this same teaching which, on the
publication of your law, induced numerous ministers of Jesus Christ, and
various ecclesiastical assemblies, to denounce it as wicked, and
obedience to it as rebellion against God. This expression of religious
sentiment alarmed both our politicians and our merchants. How could the
one expect Southern votes, or the other Southern trade, if the religious
people at the North refused to catch slaves? Hence arose a mighty outcry
against the blending of religion with politics, and most fearful were
the anathemas against the parsons who desecrated the pulpit by preaching
politics, that is, preaching that people ought to obey God rather than
the Fugitive Slave Act. Such men were, in the language of one of the New
York commercial journals, "clerical preachers of rebellion," and their
congregations were exhorted to "leave them to naked walls." But the
leaven was at work, and an antidote was greatly wanted. Supply of course
follows demand, and forthwith there was a sudden advent of cotton
clergyman, preaching against rebellion, and cunningly confounding a
conscientious, passive disobedience with forcible resistance. Their
sermons, in which virtually

    "The image of God was accounted as base,
    And the image of Cæsar set up in its place,"

were received with mighty applause by the very men who had been striving
to save the pulpit from all contaminating contact with politics, and the
reverend preachers of cotton politics were elevated into patriots, and
their disquisitions against the "higher law" were scattered on the wings
of the commercial press broadcast over the land.[2] The theology which
holds that the allegiance we owe to civil government binds the
conscience to obedience to its mandates, is the same with which
Shakspeare's assassin quieted his scruples when acting under the royal
command,--"If a king bid a man be a villain, he is bound by the
indenture of his oath to be one."

[2] In one of the most celebrated of these sermons, we find the
following broad assertion:--"If God _has_ left to men the choice of the
_kind_ of government they will have, he has _not_ left it to their
choice whether they will obey human government or not. He has
_commanded_ that obedience." Our rulers command us, when required by a
commissioner's agent, to aid in hunting and seizing our innocent
fellow-men, and delivering them into the hands of their task-masters.
That the reverend preacher would render a cheerful obedience to such a
mandate, there is little doubt. We read that the Jewish rulers, "The
chief priests and Pharisees, had given a _commandment_, that, if any one
knew where he (Jesus) was, he should show it, that they might take him."
Strange is it, that of the college of Apostles there was but one "good
citizen," who rendered obedience to the powers ordained by God; all the
others suffered death for their wilful, deliberate defiance of the laws
and the magistrates of the land. As a specimen of the teaching of these
cotton divines, I quote from this same admired sermon the following
precious piece of information, viz.:--"Nor is it true that the _fugitive
slave_ is made an _outlaw_, and on that ground justifiable for bloody
and murderous resistance of law. He is under _the protection of law_;
and if any man injures him, or kills him, the law will avenge him, just
_as soon as it would you or me_." To deny the truth of this solemn
declaration, made in the house of God, would be, in the reverend
gentleman's estimation, but a portion of "that perpetual abuse of our
Southern brethren" of which he complains. He must, however, permit us to
call his attention to the following advertisements respecting a FUGITIVE
SLAVE, published in the Wilmington Journal of the 18th of October last,
in pursuance of a law of the State of North Carolina.

"_State of North Carolina, New Hanover County._--Whereas complaint upon
oath hath this day been made to us, two of the justice of the peace for
the State and County aforesaid, by Guilford Horn, of Edgecombe County,
that a certain male slave belonging to him, named HARRY,--a carpenter by
trade, about 40 years old, 5 feet 5 inches high, or thereabouts, yellow
complexion, stout built, with a scar on his left leg (from the cut of an
axe), has very thick lips, eyes deep sunk in his head, forehead very
square, tolerably loud voice, has lost one or two of his upper teeth,
and has a very dark spot on his jaw, supposed to be a mark,--hath
_absented_ himself from his master's service, and is _supposed_ to be
lurking about in this County, committing acts of felony or other
misdeeds: These are, therefore, in the name of the State aforesaid, to
command said slave forthwith to surrender himself, and return home to
his master; and we do hereby, by virtue of the act of Assembly in such
case made and provided, intimate and declare that if the said slave
Harry doth not surrender himself, and return home immediately after the
publication of these presents, that any person or persons may KILL and
DESTROY the said slave by such means as he may think fit, without
accusation or impeachment of any crime or offence for so doing, and
without incurring any penalty or forfeiture thereby.

"Given under our hands and seals, this 29th day of June, 1850.



delivery of said HARRY to me at Tonsott Depot, Edgecombe County, or for
his confinement in any jail in the State, so that I can get him; or one
hundred and fifty dollars will be given for his HEAD. He was lately
heard from in Newbern, where he called himself Henry Barnes (or Burns)
and will be likely to continue the name or assume that of Coppage or
Farmer. He has a free mulatto woman for a wife, by the name of Sally
Bozeman, who has lately removed to Wilmington, and lives in that part of
the town called Texas, where he will likely be lurking.


"_June 29, 1850._"

It is amusing to observe with what awful reverence our merchants and
brokers regard the sanctity of human law, when it commands them to catch
slaves; a reverence not always felt by them for the statute of usury
when the money market is tight.

A vast deal of nonsense and impiety has been recently thrown upon the
public in relation to the "higher law," by men who had political and
pecuniary interests depending on the good-will of the slaveholders. The
whole subject is perfectly simple and intelligible, and has been
intentionally misrepresented and mystified.

Human government is indispensable to the happiness and progress of human
society. Hence God, in his wisdom and benevolence, wills its existence;
and in this sense, and this alone, the powers that be are ordained by
him. But civil government cannot exist, if each individual may, at his
pleasure, forcibly resist its injunctions. Therefore Christians are
required to _submit_ to the powers that be, whether a Nero or a
slave-catching Congress. But obedience to the civil ruler often
necessarily involves rebellion to God. Hence we are warned by Christ and
his Apostles, and by the example of saints in all ages, in such cases,
not to obey, but to submit and suffer. We are to hold fast our
allegiance to Jehovah, but at the same time not take up arms to defend
ourselves against the penalties imposed by the magistrate for our
disobedience. Thus the Divine sovereignty and the authority of human
government are both maintained. Revolution is not the abolition of human
government, but a change in its form, and its lawfulness depends on
circumstances. What was the "den" in which John Bunyan had his glorious
vision of the Pilgrim's Progress? A prison to which he was confined for
years for refusing obedience to human laws. And what excuse did this
holy man make for conduct now denounced as wicked and rebellious? "I
cannot obey, but I can suffer." The Quakers have from the first refused
to obey the law requiring them to bear arms; yet have they never been
vilified by our politicians and cotton clergymen, as rebels against the
powers that be, nor sneered at for their acknowledgment of a "higher"
than human law. The Lord Jesus Christ, after requiring us to love God
and our neighbour, added, "There is none other commandment greater than
these"; no, not even a slave-catching act of Congress, which requires us
to hunt our neighbour, that he may be reduced to the condition of a
beast of burden. Rarely has the religious faith of the community
received so rude a shock as that which has been given it by your
horrible law, and the principles advanced by its political and clerical
supporters. Cruelty, oppression, and injustice are elevated into
virtues, while justice, mercy, and compassion are ridiculed and

But lately, the business of catching slaves was regarded as one of the
lowest grades of scoundrelism. Now, great pains are taken by our
gentlemen of property and standing to ennoble it; and men of eminence in
the legal profession are stooping to take the wages of iniquity, and
lending themselves to consign to the horrors of American slavery men
whom they know to be innocent of crime. Nay, we have seen in New York a
committee of gentlemen actually _raising money by voluntary
contribution_ to furnish a slave-catcher with professional services
gratis;--a free gift, not to mitigate human misery, but to aggravate the
hardships of the poor and friendless a thousandfold. Can men of standing
in the community thus openly espouse the cause of cruelty and
oppression, and, from commercial and political views, trample upon every
principle of Christian benevolence, without corrupting the moral sense
of the people to the extent of their influence? When gentlemen club
together to hire a lawyer to assist a slave-catcher, no wonder that the
commercial press should teem with the vilest abuse of all who feel
sympathy for the fugitive. One of the most malignant proslavery journals
in New York is edited by your colleague and fellow-Whig, the Honorable
Mr. Brooks, and his brother. I copy, Sir, for your consideration, the
following article from the _New York Evening Express_, published during
the late trial in that city of Henry Long, an alleged fugitive:--

"Two fugitive cases are now before our courts; one that of the negro
Henry Long, and the other that of three white Frenchmen, under the
extradition treaty with France. The negro's case makes a great deal of
noise, because he is black; the three white Frenchmen are hardly heard
of. The three white French people pay their own counsel: they may have
committed a robbery in Paris, or may not; are perhaps innocent, though
possibly guilty; but here they are on trial, with no chance of a trial
before a jury! If they are sent back, and are convicted, they go to the
galleys, and are slaves for life. The negro, Henry Long, lucky fellow
for being black! lives in clover here, and has one of the best speakers
in the city, on the best fee, interests all the Abolitionists in all
quarters, who contribute money freely for his defence, and if he is
returned, leaves here canonized as a martyr, and goes back to the
condition he was born in, to fatten on hog and hominy, better fed and
better clothed than nine tenths of the farm laborers in Great Britain.
Another consideration strikes us, and that is, the cost of defending
Long will buy his freedom three times over. The very fee of his counsel
would purchase his freedom. But to buy him and pay for him, _not steal_
him, would leave no room for agitation. And where does this money come
from, that cares for Long and neglects the three Frenchmen? From
England, in the main, we believe. The Abolitionists here do not
_contribute it_."

It would be difficult to find in the Satanic press a more clumsy piece
of malignant falsehood. We have here, from the same pen, and in the same
article, the assertions, that the Abolitionists, in all quarters, we are
assured, "contribute money freely for his defence"; and then the money,
it is believed, comes mainly from England. "The Abolitionists here do
not contribute it." To contribute money for the legal defence of a
fugitive is _stealing him_. The cost of defending Long amounted to three
times the price that would be asked for him. Long, after his return,
sold in Richmond for $750; of course his defence cost $2,250. To whom,
and for what, was this money paid? Long could not be bought in New York,
all advances for the purpose being peremptorily repulsed. His counsel's
fee was $300, being all contributed in New York, and about $100 of it
being raised by the free colored people. While $300 were thus raised to
give Long the chance of a legal defence, gentlemen of the New York Union
Safety Committee, of which your colleague has the honor of being a
member, contributed $500 to aid the slave-catcher in reducing to bondage
a man unaccused of crime!

I am inclined to believe, Sir, that you have little cause to
congratulate yourself, that, in voting for the Fugitive Slave Law, you
have advanced the cause of truth, justice, humanity, or religion.

A refusal to _obey_ your wicked law has been artfully represented as a
determination to _resist_ its execution. Very few of our white
population have intimated the most distant intention of resorting to
illegal violence. Very many ecclesiastical bodies have denounced your
law as so iniquitous, that they could not in conscience obey it; but I
challenge you to point to a _single instance_ in which such a body has
recommended forcible resistance. To the vast accumulation of impiety
uttered in support of your law has been added a fiendish ridicule of the
benevolent and Christian feeling arrayed against it. It is true, that
some of our free blacks and fugitives have declared, that they would, at
the hazard of their lives, defend themselves against the kidnapper.
Whatever may be thought of the wisdom of such a determination, be
assured it will tax your logical powers to the utmost to prove that God
has conferred the right of self-defence exclusively upon white men. The
slave is a prisoner of war, and instead of being protected by law, he is
subjected by it to every conceivable outrage. When murdered, his owner
seeks in the courts _damages_ at the hands of the murderer, as he would
for the death of his horse. For no possible injury committed on his
person, either by his owner or others, can he receive compensation,
although the law may profess to punish cruelty to him as to other
animals. Now it has never been regarded as immoral, by those who admit
the right of self-defence, for a prisoner of war to effect his escape by
slaying his guard. All this, I know, will horrify a certain class of
our divines and politicians. But let them be patient. I am not laying
down a doctrine, but stating _facts_, which they may disprove if they
can. Let them remember, that all the slavery which they delight to find
in the Bible was the slavery of _white_ men, and that the Roman slaves
in the time of Christ, whose bondage, we are told, he and his Apostles
approved, were held by the _right of war_. White Americans have been
held as slaves by the same holy and Scriptural tenure. Let us, then,
inquire how the escape and resistance of white slaves have heretofore
been regarded. In 1535, the _white_ slaves in Tunis alone amounted to
twenty thousand. Cervantes, who had himself been a slave in Algiers,
says in his writings, "For liberty we ought to risk life itself; slavery
being the greatest evil that can fall to the lot of man." Acting upon
this precept, he himself, while a slave, planned a general insurrection
of the slaves. Yet Cervantes was recognized as a faithful son of the
Church, and the license prefixed to his works declares they contain
nothing contrary to the Christian religion. The Annual Register for 1763
announces, that, "last month, the Christian slaves at Algiers, to the
number of four thousand, rose and killed their guards, and massacred all
who came in their way." The insurrection was suppressed, but no one in
Europe denounced the insurgents as bloodthirsty wretches, nor regarded
their effort as an impious and anti-Christian rebellion against the
powers ordained of God. In the reign of Elizabeth, one John Fox, a slave
on the Barbary coast, slew his master, and, effecting his escape with a
number of his fellow-slaves, arrived in England. The queen, instead of
looking upon him as a murderer, testified her admiration of his exploit
by allowing him a pension.[3]

[3] For the facts on this subject, see the admirable work by Charles
Sumner, entitled "White Slavery in the Barbary States."

Washington Madison performed a similar exploit on board an American
coast slaver, and arrived, with a large number of his fellow-slaves, in
the British West Indies. Mr. Webster, then Secretary of State,
officially demanded of the British government the surrender of this
heroic man as a MURDERER.

In 1793, there were one hundred and fifteen American slaves in Algiers,
held by as perfect and Scriptural a tenure as any slave is now held in
any part of our wide republic. Had one of these slaves made his escape
by killing his Algerine master, would any of our patriotic divines,
would any gentleman of the "New York Union Committee of Safety," would
even Mr. Webster himself, have pronounced him a murderer? Had the
captain of a British ship favored his escape, and given him a passage to
Boston, would your colleague, the Honorable Mr. Brooks, have accused him
of slave-stealing? Is it not possible, Sir, that, with very many of our
casuists and moralists, questions of conscience are decided according to
the tincture of a skin?

I will now ask your attention to some of the political consequences
resulting from the late measures in which you rejoice, and for which you
voted. No sooner had Congress made the required concessions to the slave
power, than the advocates of those measures claimed the glory of having
given peace to the country, and perpetuity to the Union. Mr. Webster, as
one of the chief agents in this blessed consummation, received the
congratulations of a crowd in Washington. In his reply he
observed,--"Truly, gentlemen, the last two days have been great days. A
work has been accomplished which dissipates doubts and alarms, puts an
end to angry controversies, fortifies the Constitution of the country,
and strengthens the bond of the Union.

    'Now is the winter of our discontent
    Made glorious summer;....
    And all the clouds that lowered upon our house
    In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.'"

The glorious summer anticipated by the orator proved cold and brief, and
if the lowering clouds were indeed buried in the ocean, the sea has
given up its dead. Never before, since the organization of the
government, has such a tempest of indignation swept over the land. Never
before, in a single instance, has there been manifested throughout the
religious portion of the community, of all creeds and names, such a
settled determination in the fear of God to withhold obedience to a law
of the land. The sentiments of the great mass of the people of the free
States, exclusive of the commercial cities, are briefly but emphatically
embodied in a resolution of the Common Council of Chicago, viz.:--"The
Fugitive Slave Act recently passed by Congress is revolting to our moral
sense, and an outrage on our feelings of justice and humanity, because
it disregards all the securities which the Constitution and laws have
thrown around personal liberty, and its direct tendency is to alienate
the people from their love and reverence for the government and
institutions of our country."

How far the clouds which hovered over our house have been dissipated,
let the recent rout of Mr. Webster's party in Massachusetts testify. Let
his own declaration, a month after the _peace_ measures were adopted,
that the Union was passing through a _fiery trial_, testify.[4] How far
the work of the two days has fortified the Constitution, let the recent
law of Vermont, denounced as an utter nullification of the Constitution,
because it rescues the alleged fugitive from the hands of the
commissioner, and gives him a jury trial before a State court, testify.
When rumors were rife that Mr. Webster intended to repudiate his own
thunder, the Wilmot Proviso, the _New York Herald_, the chief Northern
organ of the slaveholders, promised that, if the Senator would indeed
pursue a course so patriotic, a grateful country would, at the next
election, place him in the Presidential chair. But scarcely had the acts
advocated by Mr. Webster been consummated, than the _Herald_, with
sardonic malice, announces,--"The predictions of Mr. Clay, that the
Compromise Bill would speedily conciliate all parties, and restore the
era of good feeling, were exactly the reverse of the actual
consequences. Mr. Webster has been cast overboard in Massachusetts.
General Cass has been virtually condemned in Michigan. Mr. Dickinson,
the President, and his cabinet, have been routed in New York. Mr. Phelps
has been superseded in Vermont. Whilst in Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and
Wisconsin, the Free-Soilers have carried off the booty." And he winds up
with declaring, that the next President "can't be Fillmore nor Webster."

[4] Letter to Union Meeting in New York, 28th Oct., 1850.

If the "peace measures" have strengthened the bond of the Union, what
mean all the meetings lately held to _save the Union_? Why is the tocsin
now sounded by the very authors and friends of the measures? How comes
it that, in Boston itself, the chairman of a Union meeting contradicts
the exulting and jubilant shout of triumph uttered by the Secretary of
State, and makes the following doleful announcement:--"The Union, and
consequently the existence of this nation, is menaced, and unless there
is a great and general effort in their support, we may soon behold the
mighty fabric of our government trembling over our heads, and
threatening by its fall to crush the prosperity which we have so long
and happily enjoyed." So relaxed has become the bond of our Union, that
one hundred gentlemen of property and standing in New York have, under
the style and title of "The New York Union Committee of Safety," assumed
the onerous task of taking it into their safe-keeping. "Committees of
safety" are associated with times of peril and anarchy, and are never
wanted when alarms have ceased, angry discussions ended, the
Constitution fortified, and the bond of union strengthened.

In this universal panic, in this dread entertained, especially in
Boston, by Mr. Webster's friends, of soon seeing the mighty fabric of
our government trembling over their heads, it may, Sir, be consolatory
to you and others to know how so dire a calamity may be averted. The
chivalric Senator from Mississippi--the gentleman who threatens to hang
one Senator if he dare place his foot on the soil of Mississippi, who
draws a loaded pistol on another, and for a third bears a challenge to
mortal combat--was lately in the city of New York. The Committee of
Safety found him out, and lauded him for his fearless discharge of duty,
and his fervor and devotion to the Union, and welcomed him to the
commercial emporium in the name of all who appreciate the blessings we
enjoy, and are willing to transmit them to their children. The worthy
and conciliatory gentleman very appropriately communicated to the
committee having the Union in charge the conditions on which alone it
could be saved, notwithstanding its bond had so recently been
strengthened. These conditions are, we learn, four in number.

1. "The Fugitive Slave Bill passed by Congress shall remain the law of
the land, and be faithfully executed."

Both you and Mr. Webster admit that the Constitution permits a jury
trial to the fugitive. Should Congress, in its wisdom, and in obedience
to the wishes of the great mass of the Northern population, and in the
exercise of its constitutional power, elevate property in a human being
to the same level with that in a horse, and permit a jury to pass upon
the title to it,--_the Union must be dissolved_.

2. "The Wilmot Proviso, that monstrous thing, shall not be revived." It
was not courteous, certainly, in Mr. Foote thus to characterize Mr.
Webster's thunder. The claim to this thunder was made in his speech,
September, 1847, at the Springfield Convention, which nominated him for
President; and the Convention, in his presence, thus declared their
devotion to his missile. "The Whigs of Massachusetts now declare, and
put this declaration of their purpose _on record_, that Massachusetts
will never consent that Mexican territories, however acquired, shall
become a part of the American Union, unless on the _unalterable_
condition that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude,
otherwise than in punishment for crime." The next year Mr. Webster
launched his thunder over the Territory of Oregon, and thus in his
speech (10th August, 1848) vindicated it from the character now given to
it by Mr. Foote:--

"Gentlemen from the South declare that we invade their rights when we
deprive them of a participation in the enjoyment of territories acquired
by the common services and common exertions of all. Is this true? Of
what do we deprive them? Why, they say that we deprive them of the
privilege of carrying their slaves as slaves into the new territories.
Well, Sir, what is the amount of that? They say, that in this way we
deprive them of going into this acquired territory with their property.
Their property! What do they mean by this 'property'? We certainly do
not deprive them of the privilege of going into those newly acquired
territories with all that, in the general estimate of human society and
common and universal understanding of mankind, is esteemed property. Not
at all. The truth is just this. They have in their own States peculiar
laws which create property in persons.... The real meaning, then, of
Southern gentlemen, in making this complaint, is, that they cannot go
into the territories of the United States carrying with them their own
peculiar law, a law which creates property in persons."

So the Wilmot Proviso was no monstrous thing at all, as applied to
Oregon. When the question came up of applying this same Proviso to New
Mexico and California, Mr. Webster discovered in these Territories a
certain peculiarity of physical geography and Asiatic scenery which he
had not discovered in Oregon, and which, he found, rendered it a
physical impossibility for Southern gentlemen to carry there "a law
which creates property in persons," and he therefore gave them full
liberty to carry their law into those vast regions, if they could. But
at the very moment of giving this liberty to Southern gentlemen, he
courageously warned them that his thunder was good constitutional
thunder, and would be used whenever necessary. "Wherever there is an
_inch of land_ to be stayed back from becoming slave territory, I am
ready to insert the principle of the exclusion of slavery. I am pledged
to that from 1837,--pledged to it again and again, and I will perform
those pledges." So, should we get another slice of Mexico, or annex Cuba
or St. Domingo, Mr. Webster would revive the Wilmot Proviso, and then
_he_ will be the means, if he succeeds, of dissolving the Union!

3. The next condition announced to the Safety Committee is,--"No attempt
shall be made in Congress to prohibit slavery in the District of

Now it is the opinion of Mr. Webster, that Congress has the
constitutional right, not merely to attempt, but actually to effect, the
exclusion of slavery in _all_ the Territories of the United States. The
District of Columbia being placed by the Constitution expressly under
"the exclusive jurisdiction" of Congress, the _constitutional_ right to
abolish slavery there has rarely been questioned; but it has been
contended that good faith to the States which ceded the District forbids
such an act of constitutional power. Hence, in 1838, a resolution was
introduced into the Senate declaring that the abolition of slavery in
the District would be "a violation of good faith," &c. What said Mr.
Webster? "I do not know any matter of fact, or any ground of argument,
on which this affirmation of plighted faith can stand. I see nothing in
the act of cession, and nothing in the Constitution, and nothing in the
transaction, implying any limitation on the authority of Congress."[5]

[5] On the 10th of January, 1838, Mr. Clay moved in the Senate the
following resolution, viz.:--"Resolved, that the interference by the
citizens of any of the States with a view to the abolition of slavery in
this District, is endangering the rights and security of the people of
this District; and that any act or measure of Congress designed to
abolish slavery in this District would be a violation of the faith
implied in the cession by the States of Virginia and Maryland, a just
cause of alarm to the people of the slaveholding States, and have a
direct and inevitable tendency to disturb and endanger the
Union."--Passed, 38 to 8, Mr. Webster voting in the negative. _Senate
Journal_, _2 Sess. 25 Cong._, p. 127.

4. The last condition on which the Union can be preserved is,--"No State
shall be prevented from coming into the Union on the ground of having
slavery." This is an unkind cut at Mr. Webster, since he has again and
again pledged himself against the admission of slave States. Even so
early as 1819, he advocated, in a public meeting at Boston, a resolution
declaring that Congress "possessed the constitutional power, upon the
admission of any new State created beyond the limits of the original
territory of the United States, to make the prohibition of the further
extension of slavery or involuntary servitude in such new State a
condition of admission. That, in the opinion of this meeting, it is just
and expedient that this power should be exercised by Congress upon the
admission of all new States created beyond the original limits of the
United States." In his New York speech, in 1837, he averred, "When it is
proposed to bring new members into the political partnership, the old
members have a right to say on what terms such new partners are to come
in, and _what they are to bring along with them_." In his Springfield
speech, he insisted, "There is no one [he forgot Mr. Foote and his other
Southern friends] who can complain of the North for resisting the
increase of _slave representation_, because it gives power to the
minority in a manner inconsistent with the principles of our
government." So late as 1848, he proclaimed on the floor of the Senate,
"I shall oppose all such extension [slave representation] at all times
and under all circumstances, even against all inducements, against all
combinations, against all compromises."

The State of Georgia, in her convention of December last, added a
_fifth_ condition to those stated by Mr. Foote as indispensable to the
preservation of the Union, viz.:--"No act suppressing the slave-trade
between the slaveholding States." Unfortunately for Mr. Webster, he is
here, for the fifth time, virtually held up as a disorganizer, and an
enemy of the Union; for in his speech in the Senate (6th February, 1837)
he remarked,--"As to the point, the right of regulating the transfer of
slaves from one State to another, he did not know that he entertained
any doubt, because the Constitution gave Congress the right to regulate
trade and commerce between the States. Trade in what? In whatever was
the subject of commerce and ownership. If slaves were the subjects of
ownership, then trade in them between the States was subject to the
regulation of Congress."

Mr. Webster declared, that the work of the two days in which he rejoiced
had fortified the Constitution, and strengthened the bond of the Union;
and yet we are now solemnly warned, by the very men and party with whom
he is acting, that the bond is to be severed, should Congress pass any
one of five laws, all and each of which he, the great expounder,
declares the Constitution authorizes Congress to pass. So it seems the
great peril to which we are exposed, the course which is to make the
fabric of our government to tremble over the heads of the people of
Boston, is, not the violation of the Constitution, nor the breach of its
compromises, nor the invasion of the rights of the South, but the
exercise by Congress of powers which Mr. Webster declares to be
undoubtedly constitutional. The Abolitionists supposed they were
following a safe guide when they confined themselves, in their petitions
to Congress for legislative action against slavery, exclusively to such
measures as they were assured, by the eminent expounder, were strictly
constitutional. The Abolitionists have sympathized with this gentleman
in the obloquy he incurred, in common with themselves, for holding
opinions unpalatable to the slaveholders, and for maintaining the
constitutional rights of Congress. Because he insisted, in the Senate,
on the power of Congress over slavery and the slave-trade in the
District of Columbia, Mr. Rives, of Virginia, was so unkind as to say,
that the gentleman from Massachusetts, "if it so pleased his fancy,
might disport himself in tossing squibs and firebrands about this hall;
but those who are sitting upon a barrel of gunpowder, liable to be blown
up by his dangerous missiles, could hardly be expected to be quite as
calm and philosophic." Because he presented antislavery petitions, and
insisted on the duty of Congress to consider them, Mr. King, of Alabama,
affirmed that the course which the Senator from Massachusetts had taken
had "placed him at the head of those men who are inundating Congress
with their petitions." Strange as it may now seem, Mr. Cuthbert, of
Georgia, told Mr. Webster to his face in the Senate, "The gentleman had
uniformly been opposed to all those measures which tended to quiet the
country and heal those sectional dissensions which distract the
Union."[6] Surely, when the Abolitionists have so long made Mr. Webster
their polar star in all constitutional questions, and have incurred with
him the accusation of tossing squibs and firebrands, and of opposing
measures which tended to quiet the country and settle sectional
dissensions, they had a right to expect from his friends a larger share
of compassion and forbearance than they have experienced.

[6] Speech, June 8, 1836.

It would seem, Sir, that, in the late treaty of peace between the North
and the South, it has been agreed and understood, that every power
granted by the Constitution, whereby slavery can be protected, extended,
and perpetuated, is to be actively enforced; and that every power which
might be used for curtailing human bondage, however unquestionable may
be its grant, shall for ever remain dormant, under the penalty of an
immediate dissolution of the Union. This, Sir, is the treaty which our
commercial cities are glorifying; this is the treaty which has turned
our "winter of discontent" into "glorious summer." And think you, Sir,
that the slaveholders, having eyes, see not, and having understandings,
perceive not, the haberdashery patriotism which rejoices in such a
treaty, and denounces as "fanatics," "vipers," and "woolly-headed
philanthropists," all who do not confess it to be a glorious
consummation? The Southern papers tell us that our Union meetings are
got up to "sell a little more tape and flannel"; and they remark, "It is
very queer that Union meetings are held only in places which trade with
the South." Out of regard to their Southern brethren, a member of the
British House of Commons was insulted in Faneuil Hall by a portion of
the Boston people, and forthwith the _New Orleans Delta_, instead of
gratefully acknowledging the compliment, remarks, that their "good
Union-loving friends in Boston are now solacing the South with
sugar-plums in the shape of resolutions and speeches, and spice in the
form of a row, got up on the occasion of the first appearance of George
Thompson, an imported incendiary and hireling agitator. Such
manifestation possesses an advantage which doubtless constitutes no
small recommendation with our good brethren of Boston,--it is very
cheap. The _cottoncratical_ clerks and warehousemen may raise a hubbub
in Faneuil Hall, but the fanatics can slay them at the _polls_."

It is some consolation to those who are now suffering all the contempt
and opprobrium which can be thrown both upon their heads and their
hearts, because they have refused to follow Mr. Webster in the devious
paths in which it has lately been his pleasure to walk, that they have
by their constancy and firmness extorted from their Southern antagonists
a tribute which is not paid to their revilers. Said Mr. Stanley, of
Virginia, in his speech in the House of Representatives last March,
speaking of a certain class of Northern politicians,--"I would say, with
a slight alteration of one of Canning's verses,--

    'Give me the avowed, erect, and manly foe,
    Open I can meet, perhaps may turn, his blow;
    But of all the plagues, great Heaven, thy wrath can send,
    Save, O, save me from a _dough-face friend_!'"

In closing this long letter, permit me to advert to the opinion
expressed abroad of your Fugitive Law. Mr. Webster thought it convenient
to quote the sentiment of a nameless correspondent, as to the
mischievous mixture of religion with politics. Possibly the opinion of
Dr. Lushington, one of the Lords of the Privy Council, Judge of the
Vice-Admiralty Court, and the negotiator, on the part of Great Britain,
of a recent treaty with France, may be entitled to at least equal
weight. This gentleman, in a private letter to an English friend, and
not intended for publication, thus speaks of your law:--"No one can feel
more sincerely than myself, abhorrence of the Fugitive Slave Bill,--a
measure as cruel and unchristian as ever disgraced any country." An
Irish liberal, writing from Dublin, says,--"I long looked to your
country as the ark of the world's liberties. I confess I hope for this
no longer. The Fugitive Slave Bill is a shocking sample of the depravity
of public sentiment in the United States. So atrocious a measure could
not have passed into a law, if the majority of the people had not
actively assented, or passively consented. Here, by the preponderating
influence of our aristocracy, a small, but compact body, measures are
often carried into laws that are very distasteful to multitudes; but
such a mean, vile law as the Fugitive Slave Bill could not pass in

The English press, Whig, Tory, and Radical, is indignant at the
atrocities of your law. The taunt of our slaveholders, that the English
had better reform abuses at home, is thus met by a radical journal (_The
People_):--"The Americans laugh at us when we speak of American slavery,
so long as so many of our fellow-subjects in England and Ireland are
perishing from starvation through monarchical and aristocratical
tyranny. We answer, that the Americans _know_ that the men and women who
lift up their voices against American slavery are the enemies of British
tyranny and oppression."

Your law, Sir, degrades the national character abroad; its excessive
servility to Southern dictation excites the contempt of the slaveholders
for the easy, selfish virtue of their Northern auxiliaries, while its
outrages upon religion, justice, humanity, and the dearest principles of
personal freedom, under pretence of preserving the Union, weaken the
attachment of conscientious men for a confederacy which requires such
horrible sacrifices for its continuance. All these evils might have been
easily avoided by a law satisfying every requirement of the
Constitution, and yet treating the alleged fugitive as a MAN, and
granting him the same protection as is accorded to an alleged murderer.
God gave you, Sir, an opportunity for which you ought to have been
grateful, of illustrating your Puritan descent by standing forth before
the nation as an advocate of justice and freedom, and of the rights of
the poor and oppressed. Through a blind devotion to a political leader,
you rejected the palm which Providence tendered to your acceptance, and
have indelibly associated your name with cruelty and injustice. Had you
retired from the notice of the public, as you did from the suffrages of
the electors, you had acted wisely. In an evil hour for yourself, you
stood forth as the champion of the Fugitive Slave Law. Its enemies
rejoice in your rashness, for your feeble apology has rendered its
deformities more prominent, and, by failing to vindicate, you have
virtually confessed its abominations. May you live, Sir, to deplore the
grievous error you have committed, and, by your future efforts in behalf
of human freedom and happiness, atone for the wound they have received
at your hands.


February, 1851.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Letter to the Hon. Samuel A. Eliot, Representative in Congress From the City of Boston, In Reply to His Apology For Voting For the Fugitive Slave Bill." ***

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