Part 51 out of 52
Fellow-citizens,--with a body of men thus composed, for legislators
and executors of the laws, what will, what must be, what has been
your legislation? The numbers of freemen constituting your nation
are much greater than those of the slaveholding States, bond and free.
You have at least three-fifths of the whole population of the Union.
Your influence on the legislation and the administration of the
government ought to be in the proportion of three to two.--But how
stands the fact? Besides the legitimate portion of influence
exercised by the slaveholding States by the measure of their numbers,
here is an intrusive influence in every department, by a
representation nominally of persons, but really of property,
ostensibly of slaves, but effectively of their masters,
overbalancing your superiority of numbers, adding two-fifths of
supplementary power to the two-fifths fairly secured to them by the
compact, CONTROLLING AND OVERRULING THE WHOLE ACTION OF YOUR
GOVERNMENT AT HOME AND ABROAD, and warping it to the sordid private
interest and oppressive policy of 300,000 owners of slaves.
From the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the United
States, the institution of domestic slavery has been becoming more
and more the abhorrence of the civilized world. But in proportion as
it has been growing odious to all the rest of mankind, it has been
sinking deeper and deeper into the affections of the holders of
slaves themselves. The cultivation of cotton and of sugar, unknown
in the Union at the establishment of the Constitution, has added
largely to the pecuniary value of the slave. And the suppression of
the African slave-trade as piracy upon pain of death, by securing
the benefit of a monopoly to the virtuous slaveholders of the
ancient dominion, has turned her heroic tyrannicides into a
community of slave-breeders for sale, and converted the land of
George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas
Jefferson, into a great barracoon--a cattle-show of human beings, an
emporium, of which the staple articles of merchandise are the flesh
and blood, the bones and sinews of immortal man.
Of the increasing abomination of slavery in the unbought hearts of
men at the time when the Constitution of the United States was formed,
what clearer proof could be desired, than that the very same year in
which that charter of the land was issued, the Congress of the
Confederation, with not a tithe of the powers given by the people to
the Congress of the new compact, actually abolished slavery for ever
throughout the whole Northwestern territory, without a remonstrance
or a murmur. But in the articles of confederation, there was no
guaranty for the property of the slaveholder--no double representation
of him in the Federal councils--no power of taxation--no stipulation
for the recovery of fugitive slaves. But when the powers of
_government_ came to be delegated to the Union, the South--that
is, South Carolina and Georgia--refused their subscription to
the parchment, till it should be saturated with the infection
of slavery, which no fumigation could purify, no quarantine could
extinguish. The freemen of the North gave way, and the deadly
venom of slavery was infused into the Constitution of freedom. Its
first consequence has been to invert the first principle of Democracy,
that the will of the majority of numbers shall rule the land. By
means of the double representation, the minority command the whole,
and a KNOT OF SLAVEHOLDERS GIVE THE LAW AND PRESCRIBE THE POLICY OF
THE COUNTRY. To acquire this superiority of a large majority of
freemen, a persevering system of engrossing nearly all the seats
of power and place, is constantly for a long series of years
pursued, and you have seen, in a period of fifty-six years, the
Chief-magistracy of the Union held, during forty-four of them, by
the owners of slaves. The Executive departments, the Army and Navy,
the Supreme Judicial Court and diplomatic missions abroad, all
present the same spectacle:--an immense majority of power in the
hands of a very small minority of the people--millions made for a
fraction of a few thousands.
* * * * *
From that day (1830), SLAVERY, SLAVEHOLDING, SLAVE-BREEDING AND
SLAVE-TRADING, HAVE FORMED THE WHOLE FOUNDATION OF THE POLICY OF THE
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, and of the slaveholding States, at home and
abroad; and at the very time when a new census has exhibited a large
increase upon the superior numbers of the free States, it has
presented the portentous evidence of increased influence and
ascendancy of the slaveholding power.
Of the prevalence of that power, you have had continual and
conclusive evidence in the suppression for the space of ten years of
the right of petition, guarantied, if there could be a guarantee
against slavery, by the first article amendatory of the Constitution.
* * * * *
ON THE CONDITION OF THE FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR
IN THE UNITED STATES.
* * * * *
PUBLISHED BY THE AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY,
NO. 143 NASSAU STREET.
* * * * *
This No. contains 1-1/2 sheet.--Postage, under 100 miles,
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Please Read and circulate.
ON THE CONDITION OF THE FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR.
* * * * *
It appears from the census of 1830, that there were then 319,467
free colored persons in the United States. At the present time the
number cannot be less than 360,000. Fifteen States of the Federal
Union have each a smaller population than this aggregate. Hence if
the whole mass of human beings inhabiting Connecticut, or New Jersey,
or any other of these fifteen States, were subjected to the ignorance,
and degradation, and persecution and terror we are about to describe,
as the lot of this much injured people, the amount of suffering would
still be numerically less than that inflicted by a professedly
Christian and republican community upon the free negroes. Candor,
however, compels us to admit that, deplorable as is their condition,
it is still not so wretched as Colonizationists and slaveholders,
for obvious reasons, are fond of representing it. It is not true
that free negroes are "more vicious and miserable than slaves _can_
be," nor that "it would be as humane to throw slaves from the
decks of the middle passage, as to set them free in this country,"
nor that "a sudden and universal emancipation without
colonization, would be a greater CURSE to the slaves themselves,
than the bondage in which they are held."
[Footnote 97: Rev. Mr. Bacon, of New Haven, 7 Rep. Am. Col. Soc.
[Footnote 98: African Repository, Vol. IV. p. 226.]
It is a little singular, that in utter despite of these rash
assertions slaveholders and colonizationists unite in assuring us,
that the slaves are rendered _discontented_ by _witnessing_ the
freedom of their colored brethren; and hence we are urged to assist
in banishing to Africa these sable and dangerous mementoes of liberty.
We all know that the wife and children of the free negro are not
ordinarily sold in the market--that he himself does not toil under
the lash, and that in certain parts of our country he is permitted
to acquire some intelligence, and to enjoy some comforts, utterly
and universally denied to the slave. Still it is most unquestionable,
that these people grievously suffer from a cruel and wicked
prejudice--cruel in its consequences; wicked in its voluntary
adoption, and its malignant character.
Colonizationists have taken great pains to inculcate the opinion that
prejudice against color is implanted in our nature by the Author of
our being; and whence they infer the futility of every effort to
elevate the colored man in this country, and consequently the duty
and benevolence of sending him to Africa, beyond the reach of our
cruelty. The theory is as false in fact as it is derogatory to
the character of that God whom we are told is LOVE. With what
astonishment and disgust should we behold an earthly parent exciting
feuds and animosities among his own children; yet we are assured,
and that too by professing Christians, that our heavenly Father has
implanted a principle of hatred, repulsion and alienation between
certain portions of his family on earth, and then commanded them, as
if in mockery, to "love one another."
[Footnote 99: "Prejudices, which neither refinement, nor argument,
nor education, NOR RELIGION ITSELF can subdue, mark the people of
color, whether bond or free, as the subjects of a degradation
_inevitable and incurable_."--_Address of the Connecticut Col.
Society_. "The managers consider it clear that causes exist, and are
now operating, to prevent their improvement and elevation to any
considerable extent as a class in this country, which are fixed, not
only beyond the control of the friends of humanity, but of _any
human power_: CHRISTIANITY cannot do for them here, what it will do
for them in Africa. This is not the _fault_ of the colored man,
_nor of the white man_, but an ORDINATION OF PROVIDENCE, _and no
more to be changed than the laws of nature_."--15 Rep. Am. Col. Soc.
"The people of color must, in this country, remain for ages,
probably for ever, a separate and distinct caste, weighed down by
causes powerful, universal, invincible, which neither legislation
nor CHRISTIANITY can remove."--African Repository Vol. VIII. p. 196.
"Do they (the abolitionists) not perceive that in thus confounding
all the distinctions which GOD himself has made, they arraign the
wisdom and goodness of Providence itself? It has been His divine
pleasure, to make the black man black, and the white man white, and
to distinguish them by other _repulsive_ constitutional
differences."--Speech in Senate of the United States, February 7,
1839, by HENRY CLAY, PRESIDENT OF THE AM. COL. SOC.]
In vain do we seek in nature, for the origin of this prejudice. Young
children never betray it, and on the continent of Europe it is
unknown. We are not speaking of matters of taste, or of opinions of
personal beauty, but of a prejudice against complexion, leading to
insult, degradation and oppression. In no country in Europe is any
man excluded from refined society, or deprived of literary, religious,
or political privileges on account of the tincture of his skin. If
this prejudice is the fiat of the Almighty, most wonderful is it,
that of all the kindreds of the earth, none have been found
submissive to the heavenly impulse, excepting the white inhabitants
of North America; and of these, it is no less strange than true,
that this divine principle of repulsion is most energetic in such
persons as, in other respects, are the least observant of their
Maker's will. This prejudice is sometimes erroneously regarded as
the _cause_ of slavery; and some zealous advocates of emancipation
have flattered themselves that, could the prejudice be destroyed,
negro slavery would fall with it. Such persons have very inadequate
ideas of the malignity of slavery. They forget that the slaves in
Greece and Rome were of the same hue as their masters; and that at
the South, the value of a slave, especially of a female, rises, as
the complexion recedes from the African standard.
Were we to inquire into the geography of this prejudice, we should
find that the localities in which it attains its rankest luxuriance,
are not the rice swamps of Georgia, nor the sugar fields of Louisiana,
but the hills and valleys of New England, and the prairies of Ohio!
It is a fact of acknowledged notoriety, that however severe may be
the laws against colored people at the South, the prejudice against
their _persons_ is far weaker than among ourselves.
It is not necessary for our present purpose, to enter into a
particular investigation of the condition of the free negroes in the
slave States. We all know that they suffer every form of oppression
which the laws can inflict upon persons not actually slaves. That
unjust and cruel enactments should proceed from a people who keep
two millions of their fellow men in abject bondage, and who believe
such enactments essential to the maintenance of their despotism,
certainly affords no cause for surprise.
We turn to the free States, where slavery has not directly steeled
our hearts against human suffering, and where no supposed danger of
insurrection affords a pretext for keeping the free blacks in
ignorance and degradation; and we ask, what is the character of the
prejudice against color _here_? Let the Rev. Mr. Bacon, of
Connecticut, answer the question. This gentleman, in a vindication
of the Colonization Society, assures us, "The _Soodra_ is not
farther separated from the _Brahim_ in regard to all his privileges,
civil, intellectual, and moral, than the negro from the white man by
the prejudices which result from the difference made between them by
THE GOD OF NATURE."--(_Rep. Am. Col. Soc._ p. 87.)
We may here notice the very opposite effect produced on Abolitionists
and Colonizationists, by the consideration that this difference
_is_ made by the GOD OF NATURE; leading the one to discard the
prejudice, and the other to banish its victims.
With these preliminary remarks we will now proceed to take a view of
the condition of the free people of color in the non-slaveholding
States; and will consider in order, the various disabilities and
oppressions to which they are subjected, either by law or the
customs of society.
1. GENERAL EXCLUSION FROM THE ELECTIVE FRANCHISE.
Were this exclusion founded on the want of property, or any other
qualification deemed essential to the judicious exercise of the
franchise, it would afford no just cause of complaint; but it is
founded solely on the color of the skin, and is therefore irrational
and unjust. That taxation and representation should be inseparable,
was one of the axioms of the fathers of our revolution; and one of
the reasons they assigned for their revolt from the crown of Britain.
But _now_, it is deemed a mark of fanaticism to complain of the
disfranchisement of a whole race, while they remain subject to the
burden of taxation. It is worthy of remark, that of the thirteen
original States, only _two_ were so recreant to the principles of
the Revolution, as to make a _white skin_ a qualification for
suffrage. But the prejudice has grown with our growth, and
strengthened with our strength; and it is believed that in _every_
State constitution subsequently formed or revised,[excepting
Vermont and Maine, and the Revised constitution of Massachusetts,]
the crime of a dark complexion has been punished, by debarring its
possessor from all approach to the ballot-box. The necessary
effect of this proscription in aggravating the oppression and
degradation of the colored inhabitants must be obvious to all who
call to mind the solicitude manifested by demagogues, and
office-seekers, and law makers, to propitiate the good will of all
who have votes to bestow.
[Footnote 100: From this remark the revised constitution of New York
is _nominally_ an exception; colored citizens, possessing a _freehold_
worth two hundred and fifty dollars, being allowed to vote; while
suffrage is extended to _white_ citizens without any property
2. DENIAL OF THE RIGHT OF LOCOMOTION.
It is in vain that the Constitution of the United States expressly
guarantees to "the citizens of each State, all the privileges and
immunities of citizens in the several States:"--It is in vain that
the Supreme Court of the United States has solemnly decided that this
clause confers on every citizen of one State the right to "pass
through, or reside in any other State for the purposes of trade,
agriculture, professional pursuits, or _otherwise_." It is in vain
that "the members of the several State legislatures" are required to
"be bound by oath or affirmation to support" the constitution
conferring this very guarantee. Constitutions, and judicial decisions,
and religious obligations are alike outraged by our State enactments
against people of color. There is scarcely a slave State in which a
citizen of New York, with a dark skin, may visit a dying child
without subjecting himself to legal penalties. But in the slave
States we look for cruelty; we expect the rights of humanity and the
laws of the land to be sacrificed on the altar of slavery. In the
free States we had reason to hope for a greater deference to decency
and morality. Yet even in these States we behold the effects of a
miasma wafted from the South. The Connecticut Black Act, prohibiting,
under heavy penalties, the instruction of any colored person from
another State, is well known. It is one of the encouraging signs of
the times, that public opinion has recently compelled the repeal of
this detestable law. But among all the free States, OHIO stands
pre-eminent for the wickedness of her statutes against this class of
our population. These statutes are not merely infamous outrages on
every principle of justice and humanity, but are gross and palpable
violations of the State constitution, and manifest an absence of
moral sentiment in the Ohio legislature as deplorable as it is
alarming. We speak the language, not of passion, but of sober
conviction; and for the truth of this language we appeal, first, to
the Statutes themselves, and then to the consciences of our readers.
We shall have occasion to notice these laws under the several
divisions of our subject to which they belong; at present we ask
attention to the one intended to prevent the colored citizens of
other States from removing into Ohio. By the constitution of New York,
the colored inhabitants are expressly recognized as "citizens." Let
us suppose then a New York freeholder and voter of this class,
confiding in the guarantee given by the Federal constitution removes
into Ohio. No matter how much property he takes with him; no matter
what attestations he produces to the purity of his character, he is
required by the Act of 1807, to find, within twenty days, two
freehold sureties in the sum of five hundred dollars for his _good
behavior_; and likewise for his _maintenance_, should he at any
future period from any cause whatever be unable to maintain himself,
and in default of procuring such sureties he is to be removed by the
overseers of the poor. The legislature well knew that it would
generally be utterly impossible for a stranger, and especially a
_black_ stranger, to find such sureties. It was the _design_ of
the Act, by imposing impracticable conditions, to prevent colored
emigrants from remaining within the State; and in order more
certainly to effect this object, it imposes a pecuniary penalty on
every inhabitant who shall venture to "harbor," that is, receive
under his roof, or who shall even "employ" an emigrant who has not
given the required sureties; and it moreover renders such inhabitant
so harboring or employing him, legally liable for his future
We are frequently told that the efforts of the abolitionists have in
fact aggravated the condition of the colored people, bond and free.
The _date_ of this law, as well as the date of most of the laws
composing the several slave codes, show what credit is to be given
to the assertion. If a barbarous enactment is _recent_, its odium is
thrown upon the friends of the blacks--if _ancient_, we are assured
it is _obsolete_. The Ohio law was enacted only four years after the
State was admitted into the Union. In 1800 there were only three
hundred and thirty-seven free blacks in the territory, and in 1830
the number in the State was nine thousand five hundred. Of course a
very large proportion of the present colored population of the State
must have entered it in ignorance of this iniquitous law, or in
defiance of it. That the law has not been universally enforced,
proves only that the people of Ohio are less profligate than their
legislators--that it has remained in the statute book for thirty-two
years, proves the depraved state of public opinion and the horrible
persecution to which the colored people are legally exposed. But let
it not be supposed that this vile law is in fact obsolete, and its
very existence forgotten.
In 1829, a very general effort was made to enforce this law, and
about _one thousand free blacks_ were in consequence of it driven
out of the State; and sought a refuge in the more free and Christian
country of Canada. Previous to their departure, they sent a
deputation to the Governor of the Upper Province, to know if they
would be admitted, and received from Sir James Colebrook this
reply,--"Tell the _republicans_ on your side of the line, that we
royalists do not know men by their color. Should you come to us, you
will be entitled to all the privileges of the rest of his majesty's
subjects." This was the origin of the Wilberforce colony in Upper
We have now before us an Ohio paper, containing a proclamation by
John S. Wiles, overseer of the poor in the town of Fairfield, dated
12th March, 1838. In this instrument notice is given to all
"black or mulatto persons" residing in Fairfield, to comply with the
requisitions of the Act of 1807 within twenty days, or the law would
be enforced against them. The proclamation also addresses the white
inhabitants of Fairfield in the following terms,--"Whites, look out!
If any person or persons _employing_ any black or mulatto person,
contrary to the 3d section of the above law, you may look out for
the breakers." The extreme vulgarity and malignity of this notice
indicates the spirit which gave birth to this detestable law, and
continues it in being.
Now what says the constitution of Ohio? "ALL are born free and
independent, and have certain natural, inherent, inalienable rights;
among which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty,
_acquiring, possessing, and protecting property_, and pursuing and
attaining happiness and safety." Yet men who had called their Maker
to witness, that they would obey this very constitution, require
impracticable conditions, and then impose a pecuniary penalty and
grievous liabilities on every man who shall give to an innocent
fellow countryman a night's lodging, or even a meal of victuals in
exchange for his honest labor!
3. DENIAL OF THE RIGHT OF PETITION.
We explicitly disclaim all intention to imply that the several
disabilities and cruelties we are specifying are of universal
application. The laws of some States in relation to people of color
are more wicked than others; and the spirit of persecution is not in
every place equally active and malignant. In none of the free States
have these people so many grievances to complain of as in Ohio, and
for the honor of our country we rejoice to add, that in no other
State in the Union, has their right to petition for a redress of
their grievances been denied.
On the 14th January, 1839, a petition for relief from certain legal
disabilities, from colored inhabitants of Ohio, was presented to the
_popular_ branch of the legislature, and its rejection was moved
by George H. Flood. This rejection was not a denial of the prayer,
but an _expulsion of the petition itself_, as an intruder into the
house. "The question presented for our decision," said one of the
members, "is simply this--Shall human beings, who are bound by every
enactment upon our statute book, be _permitted_ to _request_ the
legislature to modify or soften the laws under which they live?" To
the Grand Sultan, crowded with petitions as he traverses the streets
of Constantinople, such a question would seem most strange; but
American democrats can exert a tyranny over _men who have no votes_,
utterly unknown to Turkish despotism. Mr. Flood's motion was lost by
a majority of only _four_ votes; but this triumph of humanity and
republicanism was as transient as it was meagre. The _next_ day, the
House, by a large majority, resolved: "That the blacks and mulattoes
who may be residents within this State, have no constitutional right
to present their petitions to the General Assembly for any purpose
whatsoever, and that any reception of such petitions on the part of
the General Assembly is a mere act of privilege or policy, and not
imposed by any expressed or implied power of the Constitution."
[Footnote 101: It is sometimes interesting to preserve the names of
individuals who have perpetrated bold and unusual enormities.]
The phraseology of this resolution is as clumsy as its assertions are
base and sophistical. The meaning intended to be expressed is simply,
that the Constitution of Ohio, neither in terms nor by implication,
confers on such residents as are negroes or mulattoes, any right
to offer a petition to the legislature for any object whatever; nor
imposes on that body any obligation to notice such a petition; and
whatever attention it may please to bestow upon it, ought to be
regarded as an act not of duty, but merely of favor or expediency.
Hence it is obvious, that the _principle_ on which the resolution is
founded is, that the reciprocal right and duty of offering and
hearing petitions _rest solely on constitutional enactment_, and not
on moral obligation. The reception of negro petitions is declared
to be a mere act of _privilege or policy_. Now it is difficult to
imagine a principle more utterly subversive of all the duties of
rulers, the rights of citizens, and the charities of private life.
The victim of oppression or fraud has no _right_ to appeal to the
constituted authorities for redress; nor are those authorities under
any obligation to consider the appeal--the needy and unfortunate
have no right to implore the assistance of their more fortunate
neighbors: and all are at liberty to turn a deaf ear to the cry of
distress. The eternal and immutable principles of justice and
humanity, proclaimed by Jehovah, and impressed by him on the
conscience of man, have no binding force on the legislature of Ohio,
unless expressly adopted and enforced by the State Constitution!
But as the legislature has thought proper thus to set at defiance the
moral sense of mankind, and to take refuge behind the enactments of
the Constitution, let us try the strength of their entrenchments. The
words of the Constitution, which it is pretended sanction the
resolution we are considering are the following, viz.--"The _people_
have a right to assemble together in a peaceable manner to consult
for their common good, to _instruct their representatives_, and to
apply to the legislature for a redress of grievances." It is obvious
that this clause confers no rights, but is merely declaratory of
existing rights. Still, as the right of the people to apply for a
redress of grievances is coupled with the right of _instructing
their representatives_, and as negroes are not electors and
consequently are without representatives, it is inferred that they
are not part of _the people_. That Ohio legislators are not
Christians would be a more rational conclusion. One of the members
avowed his opinion that "none but voters had a right to petition." If
then, according to the principle of the resolution, the Constitution
of Ohio denies the right of petition to all but electors, let us
consider the practical results of such a denial. In the first place,
every female in the State is placed under the same disability with
"blacks and mulattoes." No wife has a right to ask for a divorce--no
daughter may plead for a father's life. Next, no man under
twenty-one years--no citizen of any age, who from want of sufficient
residence, or other qualification, is not entitled to vote--no
individual among the tens of thousands of aliens in the
State--however oppressed and wronged by official tyranny or
corruption, has a right to seek redress from the representatives of
the people, and should he presume to do so, may be told, that, like
"blacks and mulattoes," he "has no constitutional right to present
his petition to the General Assembly for any purpose whatever."
Again--the State of Ohio is deeply indebted to the citizens of other
States, and also to the subjects of Great Britain for money borrowed
to construct her canals. Should any of these creditors lose their
certificates of debt, and ask for their renewal; or should their
interest be withheld, or paid in depreciated currency, and were they
to ask for justice at the hands of the legislature, they might be
told, that any attention paid to their request must be regarded as a
"mere act of privilege or policy, and not imposed by any expressed
or implied power of the Constitution," for, not being voters, they
stood on the same ground as "blacks and mulattoes." Such is the
folly and wickedness in which prejudice against color has involved
the legislators of a republican and professedly Christian State in
the nineteenth century.
4. EXCLUSION FROM THE ARMY AND MILITIA.
The Federal Government is probably the only one in the world that
forbids a portion of its subjects to participate in the national
defence, not from any doubts of their courage, loyalty, or physical
strength, but merely on account of the tincture of their skin! To
such an absurd extent is this prejudice against color carried, that
some of our militia companies have occasionally refused to march to
the sound of a drum when beaten by a black man. To declare a certain
class of the community unworthy to bear arms in defence of their
native country, is necessarily to consign that class to general
5. EXCLUSION FROM ALL PARTICIPATION IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.
No colored man can be a judge, juror, or constable. Were the talents
and acquirements of a Mansfield or a Marshall veiled in a sable skin,
they would be excluded from the bench of the humblest court in the
American republic. In the slave States generally, no black man can
enter a court of justice as a witness against a white one. Of course
a white man may, with perfect impunity, defraud or abuse a negro to
any extent, provided he is careful to avoid the presence of any of
his own caste, at the execution of his contract, or the indulgence of
his malice. We are not aware that an outrage so flagrant is
sanctioned by the laws of any _free_ State, with one exception. That
exception the reader will readily believe can be none other than OHIO.
A statute of this State enacts, "that no black or mulatto _person_ or
_persons_ shall hereafter be permitted to be sworn, or give evidence
in any court of Record or elsewhere, in this State, in any cause
depending, or matter of controversy, when either party to the same
is a WHITE person; or in any prosecution of the State against any
We have seen that on the subject of petition the legislature regards
itself as independent of all obligation except such as is imposed by
the Constitution. How mindful they are of the requirements even of
that instrument, when obedience to them would check the indulgence of
their malignity to the blacks, appears from the 7th Section of the
8th Article, viz.--"All courts shall be open, and every _person_, for
any injury done him in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall
have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice administered
without denial or delay."
Ohio legislators may deny that negroes and mulattoes are citizens, or
people; but they are estopped by the very words of the statute just
quoted, from denying that they are "_persons_." Now, by the
Constitution every _person_, black as well as white, is to have
justice administered to him without denial or delay. But by the law,
while any unknown _white_ vagrant may be a witness in any case
whatever, no black suitor is permitted to offer a witness of his own
color, however well established may be his character for
intelligence and veracity, to prove his rights or his wrongs; and
hence in a multitude of cases, justice is denied in despite of the
Constitution; and why denied? Solely from a foolish and wicked
prejudice against color.
6. IMPEDIMENTS TO EDUCATION.
No people have ever professed so deep a conviction of the importance
of popular education as ourselves, and no people have ever resorted
to such cruel expedients to perpetuate abject ignorance. More than
one third of the whole population of the slave States are prohibited
from learning even to read, and in some of them free men, if with
dark complexions, are subject to stripes for teaching their own
children. If we turn to the free States, we find that in all of them,
without exception, the prejudices and customs of society oppose
almost insuperable obstacles to the acquisition of a liberal
education by colored youth. Our academies and colleges are barred
against them. We know there are instances of young men with dark
skins having been received, under peculiar circumstances, into
northern colleges; but we neither know nor believe, that there have
been a dozen such instances within the last thirty years.
Colored children are very generally excluded from our common schools,
in consequence of the prejudices of teachers and parents. In some of
our cities there are schools _exclusively_ for their use, but in the
country the colored population is usually too sparse to justify such
schools; and white and black children are rarely seen studying under
the same roof; although such cases do sometimes occur, and then they
are confined to elementary schools. Some colored young men, who
could bear the expense, have obtained in European seminaries the
education denied them in their native land.
It may not be useless to cite an instance of the malignity with
which the education of the blacks is opposed. The efforts made in
Connecticut to prevent the establishment of schools of a higher order
than usual for colored pupils, are too well known to need a recital
here; and her BLACK ACT, prohibiting the instruction of colored
children from other States, although now expunged from her statute
book through the influence of abolitionists, will long be remembered
to the opprobrium of her citizens. We ask attention to the following
illustration of public opinion in another New England State.
In 1834 an academy was built by subscription in CANAAN, New Hampshire,
and a charter granted by the legislature; and at a meeting of the
proprietors it was determined to receive all applicants having
"suitable moral and intellectual recommendations, without other
distinctions;" in other words, without reference to _complexion_.
When this determination was made known, a TOWN MEETING was forthwith
convened, and the following resolutions adopted, viz.
"RESOLVED, That we view with _abhorrence_ the attempt of the
Abolitionists to establish in this town a school for the instruction
of the sable sons and daughters of Africa, in common with our sons
"RESOLVED, That we will not associate with, nor in any way
countenance, any man or woman who shall hereafter persist in
attempting to establish a school in this town for the _exclusive_
education of blacks, _or_ for their education in conjunction with
The frankness of this last resolve is commendable. The inhabitants
of Canaan, assembled in legal town meeting, determined, it seems,
that the blacks among them should in future have no education
whatever--they should not be instructed in company with the whites,
neither should they have schools exclusively for themselves.
The proprietors of the academy supposing, in the simplicity of their
hearts, that in a free country they might use their property in any
manner not forbidden by law, proceeded to open their school, and in
the ensuing spring had twenty-eight white, and fourteen colored
scholars. The crisis had now arrived when the cause of prejudice
demanded the sacrifice of constitutional liberty and of private
property. Another town meeting was convoked, at which, without a
shadow of authority, and in utter contempt of law and decency, it
was ordered, that the academy should be forcibly removed, and a
committee was appointed to execute the abominable mandate. Due
preparations were made for the occasion, and on the 10th of August,
three hundred men, with about 200 oxen, assembled at the place, and
taking the edifice from off its foundation, dragged it to a distance,
and left it a ruin. No one of the actors in this high-handed outrage
was ever brought before a court of justice to answer for this
criminal and riotous destruction of the property of others.
The transaction we have narrated, expresses in emphatic terms the
deep and settled hostility felt in the free States to the education
of the blacks. The prejudices of the community render that hostility
generally effective without the aid of legal enactments. Indeed,
some remaining regard to decency and the opinion of the world, has
restrained the Legislatures of the free States, with _one exception_,
from consigning these unhappy people to ignorance by "decreeing
unrighteous decrees," and "framing mischief by a law." Our readers,
no doubt, feel that the exception must of course be OHIO.
We have seen with what deference Ohio legislators profess to regard
their _constitutional_ obligations; and we are now to contemplate
another instance of their shameless violation of them. The
Constitution which these men have sworn to obey declares, "NO LAW
SHALL BE PASSED to prevent the poor of the several townships and
counties in this State from an _equal_ participation in the schools,
academies, colleges, and universities in this State, which are
endowed in whole, or _in part_, from the revenue arising from
_donations_ made by the United States, for the support of _colleges
and schools_--and the door of said schools, academies, and
universities shall be open for the reception of scholars, students,
and teachers of every _grade_, without ANY DISTINCTION OR PREFERENCE
Can language be more explicit or unequivocal? But have any donations
been made by the United States for the support of colleges and
schools in Ohio? Yes--by an act of Congress, the sixteenth section of
land in _each_ originally surveyed township in the State, was set
apart as a donation for the express purpose of endowing and
supporting common schools. And now, how have the scrupulous
legislators of Ohio, who refuse to acknowledge any other than
constitutional obligations to give ear to the cry of distress--how
have they obeyed this injunction of the Constitution respecting the
freedom of their schools? They enacted a law in 1831, declaring that,
"when any appropriation shall be made by the directors of any school
district, from the treasury thereof, for the payment of a teacher,
the school in such district shall be open"--to whom? "_to scholars,
students, and teachers of every grade, without distinction or
preference whatever_," as commanded by the Constitution? Oh no!
"Shall be open to all the WHITE children residing therein!!" Such is
the impotency of written constitutions, where a sense of moral
obligation is wanting to enforce them.
We have now taken a review of the Ohio laws against free people of
color. Some of them are of old, and others of recent date. The
opinion entertained of all these laws, new and old, by the _present_
legislators of Ohio, may be learned by a resolution adopted in
January last, (1839) by both houses of the legislature. "RESOLVED,
That in the opinion of this general assembly it is unwise, impolitic,
and inexpedient to repeal _any_ law now in force imposing
disabilities upon black or mulatto persons, thus placing them upon
an equality with the whites, so far as this legislature can do, and
indirectly inviting the black population of other States to emigrate
to this, to the manifest injury of the public interest." The best
comment on the _spirit_ which dictated this resolve is an enactment
by the _same_ legislature, abrogating the supreme law which requires
us to "Do unto others as we would they should do unto us," and
prohibiting every citizen of Ohio from _harboring or concealing_ a
fugitive slave, under the penalty of fine or imprisonment. General
obedience to this vile statute is alone wanting to fill to the brim
the cup of Ohio's iniquity and degradation. She hath done what she
could to oppress and crush the free negroes within her borders. She
is now seeking to rechain the slave who has escaped from his fetters.
7. IMPEDIMENTS TO RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION.
It is unnecessary to dwell here on the laws of the slave States
prohibiting the free people of color from learning to read the Bible,
and in many instances, from assembling at discretion to worship their
Creator. These laws, we are assured, are indispensable to the
perpetuity of that "peculiar institution," which many masters in
Israel are now teaching, enjoys the sanction of HIM who "will have
all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth," and
who has left to his disciples the injunction, "search the Scriptures."
We turn to the free States, in which no institution requires, that
the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should be prevented from
shining on any portion of the population, and inquire how far
prejudice here supplies the place of southern statutes.
The impediments to education already mentioned, necessarily render
the acquisition of religious knowledge difficult, and in many
instances impracticable. In the northern cities, the blacks have
frequently churches of their own, but in the country they are too few,
and too poor to build churches and maintain ministers. Of course they
must remain destitute of public worship and religious instruction,
unless they can enjoy these blessings in company with the whites.
Now there is hardly a church in the United States, not exclusively
appropriated to the blacks, in which one of their number owns a pew,
or has a voice in the choice of a minister. There are usually, indeed,
a few seats in a remote part of the church, set apart for their use,
and in which no white person is ever seen. It is surely not
surprising, under all the circumstances of the case, that these
seats are rarely crowded.
Colored ministers are occasionally ordained in the different
denominations, but they are kept at a distance by their white
brethren in the ministry, and are very rarely permitted to enter
their pulpits; and still more rarely, to sit at their tables,
although acknowledged to be ambassadors of Christ. The distinction
of _caste_ is not forgotten, even in the celebration of the Lord's
Supper, and seldom are colored disciples permitted to eat and drink
of the memorials of the Redeemer's passion till after every white
communicant has been served.
8. IMPEDIMENTS TO HONEST INDUSTRY.
In this country ignorance and poverty are almost inseparable
companions; and it is surely not strange that those should be poor
whom we compel to be ignorant. The liberal professions are virtually
sealed against the blacks, if we except the church, and even in that
admission is rendered difficult by the obstacles placed in their way
in acquiring the requisite literary qualifications; and when once
admitted, their administrations are confined to their own color.
Many of our most wealthy and influential citizens have commenced
life as ignorant and as pennyless as any negro who loiters in our
streets. Had their complexion been dark, notwithstanding their
talents, industry, enterprize and probity, they would have continued
ignorant and pennyless, because the paths to learning and to wealth,
would then have been closed against them. There is a conspiracy,
embracing all the departments of society, to keep the black man
ignorant and poor. As a general rule, admitting few if any exceptions,
the schools of literature and of science reject him--the counting
house refuses to receive him as a bookkeeper, much more as a
partner--no store admits him as a clerk--no shop as an apprentice.
Here and there a black man may be found keeping a few trifles on a
shelf for sale; and a few acquire, as if by stealth, the knowledge
of some handicraft; but almost universally these people, both in
town and country, are prevented by the customs of society from
maintaining themselves and their families by any other than menial
[Footnote 102: Of the truth of this remark, the trustees of the
Episcopal Theological Seminary at New-York, lately (June, 1839)
afforded a striking illustration. A young man, regularly
acknowledged by the Bishop as a candidate for orders, and in
consequence of such acknowledgment entitled, by an _express statute_
of the seminary, to admission to its privileges, presented himself
as a pupil. But God had given him a dark complexion, and _therefore_
the trustees, regardless of the statute, barred the doors against him,
by a formal and deliberate vote. As a compromise between conscience
and prejudice, the professors offered to give him _private_
instruction--to do in secret what they were ashamed to do openly--to
confer as a favor, what he was entitled to demand as a right. The
offer was rejected.
It is worthy of remark, that of the trustees who took an _active_
part against the _colored_ candidate, one is the PRESIDENT _of the
New York Colonization Society_; another a MANAGER, and a third, one
of its public champions; and that the Bishop of the diocese, who
wished to exclude his candidate from the theological school of which
he is both a trustee and a professor, lately headed a recommendation
in the newspapers for the purchase of a packet ship for Liberia, as
likely to "render far more efficient than heretofore, the enterprize
In 1836, a black man of irreproachable character, and who by his
industry and frugality had accumulated several thousand dollars, made
application in the City of New York for a carman's license, and was
refused solely and avowedly on account of his complexion! We have
already seen the effort of the Ohio legislature, to consign the
negroes to starvation, by deterring others from employing them.
Ignorance, idleness, and vice, are at once the punishments we
inflict upon these unfortunate people for their complexion; and the
crimes with which we are constantly reproaching them.
9. LIABILITY TO BE SEIZED, AND TREATED AS SLAVES.
An able-bodied colored man sells in the southern market for from
eight hundred to a thousand dollars; of course he is worth stealing.
Colonizationists and slaveholders, and many northern divines,
solemnly affirm, that the situation of a slave is far preferable to
that of a free negro; hence it would seem an act of humanity to
convert the latter into the former. Kidnapping being both a
lucrative and a benevolent business, it is not strange it should be
extensively practised. In many of the States this business is
regulated by law, and there are various ways in which the
transmutation is legally effected. Thus, in South Carolina, if a
free negro "entertains" a runaway slave, it may be his own wife or
child, he himself is turned into a slave. In 1827, a _free woman
and her three children_ underwent this benevolent process, for
_entertaining_ two fugitive children of six and nine years old. In
Virginia all emancipated slaves remaining twelve months in the State,
are kindly restored to their former condition. In Maryland a free
negro who marries a white woman, thereby acquires all the privileges
of a slave--and generally, throughout the slave region, including
the District of Columbia, every negro not known to be free, is
mercifully considered as a slave, and if his master cannot be
ascertained, he is thrown into a dungeon, and there kept, till by a
public sale a master can be provided for him. But often the law
grants to colored men, _known to be free_, all the advantages of
slavery. Thus, in Georgia, every _free_ colored man coming into the
State, and unable to pay a fine of one hundred dollars, becomes a
slave for life; in Florida, insolvent debtors, if _black_, are SOLD
for the benefit of their creditors; and in the District of Columbia
a free colored man, thrown into jail on suspicion of being a slave
and proving his freedom, is required by law to be sold as a slave,
if too poor to pay his jail fees. Let it not be supposed that these
laws are all obsolete and inoperative. They catch many a northern
negro, who, in pursuit of his own business, or on being decoyed
by others ventures to enter the slave region; and who, of course,
helps to augment the wealth of our southern brethren. On the 6th
of March, 1839, a report by a Committee was made to the House of
Representatives of the Massachusetts Legislature, in which are given
the _names_ of seventeen free colored men who had been enslaved at
the south. It also states an instance in which twenty-five colored
citizens, belonging to Massachusetts, were confined at one time in a
southern jail, and another instance in which 75 free colored persons
from different free States were confined, all preparatory to their
sale as slaves according to law.
The facts disclosed in this report induced the Massachusetts
Legislature to pass a resolution protesting against the kidnapping
laws of the slave States, "as invading the sacred rights of citizens
of this commonwealth, as contrary to the Constitution of the United
States, and in utter derogation of that great principle of the
common law which presumes every person to be innocent until proved
to be guilty;" and ordered the protest to be forwarded to the
Governors of the several States.
But it is not at the south alone that freemen may be converted into
slaves "according to law." The Act of Congress respecting the
recovery of fugitive slaves, affords most extraordinary facilities
for this process, through official corruption and individual perjury.
By this Act, the claimant is permitted to _select_ a justice of the
peace, before whom he may bring or send his alleged slave, and even
to prove his property by _affidavit_. Indeed, in almost every State
in the Union, a slaveholder may recover at law a human being as his
beast of burden with far less ceremony than he could his pig from
the possession of his neighbor. In only three States is a man,
claimed as a slave, entitled to a trial by jury. At the last session
of the New York Legislature a bill allowing a jury trial in such
cases was passed by the lower House, but rejected by a _democratic_
vote in the Senate, democracy in that State, being avowedly only
_skin_ deep, all its principles of liberty, equality, and human rights
depending on complexion.
Considering the wonderful ease and expedition with which fugitives
may be recovered by law, it would be very strange if mistakes did not
sometimes occur. _How_ often they occur cannot, of course, be known,
and it is only when a claim is _defeated_, that we are made sensible
of the exceedingly precarious tenure by which a poor friendless
negro at the north holds his personal liberty. A few years since, a
girl of the name of Mary Gilmore was arrested in Philadelphia, as a
fugitive slave from Maryland. Testimony was not wanting in support
of the claim; yet it was most conclusively proved that she was the
daughter of poor _Irish_ parents--having not a drop of negro blood
in her veins--that the father had absconded, and that the mother had
died a drunkard in the Philadelphia hospital, and that the infant
had been kindly received and _brought up in a colored family_. Hence
the attempt to make a slave of her. In the spring of 1839, a colored
man was arrested in Philadelphia, on a charge of having absconded
from his owner _twenty-three_ years before. This man had a wife and
family depending upon him, and a home where he enjoyed their society;
and yet, unless he could find witnesses who could prove his freedom
for more than this number of years, he was to be torn from his wife,
his children, his home, and doomed for the remainder of his days to
toil under the lash. _Four_ witnesses for the claimant swore to his
identity, although they had not seen him before for twenty-three years!
By a most extraordinary coincidence, a New England Captain, with
whom this negro had sailed _twenty-nine_ years before, in a sloop
from Nantucket, happened at this very time to be confined for debt
in the same prison with the alleged slave, and the Captain's
testimony, together with that of some other witnesses, who had
known the man previous to his pretended elopement, so fully
established his freedom, that the Court discharged him.
Another mode of legal kidnapping still remains to be described. By
the Federal Constitution, fugitives from _justice_ are to be
delivered up, and under this constitutional provision, a free negro
may be converted into a slave without troubling even a Justice of
the Peace to hear the evidence of the captor's claim. A fugitive
slave is, of course, a felon--he not only steals himself, but also
the rags on his back which belong to his master. It is understood he
has taken refuge in New York, and his master naturally wishes to
recover him with as little noise, trouble, and delay as possible.
The way is simple and easy. Let the Grand Jury indict A.B. for
stealing wearing apparel, and let the indictment, with an affidavit
of the criminal's flight, be forwarded by the Governor of the State,
to his Excellency of New York, with a requisition for the delivery
of A.B., to the agent appointed to receive him. A warrant is, of
course, issued to "any Constable of the State of New York," to
arrest A.B. For what purpose?--to bring him before a magistrate
where his identity may be established?--no, but to deliver him up to
the foreign agent. Hence, the Constable may pick up the first likely
negro he finds in the street, and ship him to the south; and should
it be found, on his arrival on the plantation, that the wrong man
has come, it will also probably be found that the mistake is of no
consequence to the planter. A few years since, the Governor of New
York signed a warrant for the apprehension of 17 Virginia negroes,
as fugitives from justice. Under this warrant, a man who had
lived in the neighborhood for three years, and had a wife and
children, and who claimed to be free, was seized, on a Sunday evening,
in the public highway, in West Chester County, N.Y., and without
being permitted to take leave of his family, was instantly
hand-cuffed, thrown into a carriage, and hurried to New York, and
the next morning was on his voyage to Virginia.
[Footnote 103: There is no evidence that he knew they were negroes;
or that he acted otherwise than in perfect good faith. The alleged
crime was stealing a boat. The _real_ crime, it is said, was
stealing themselves and escaping in a boat. The most horrible abuses
of these warrants can only be prevented by requiring proof of
identity before delivery.]
Free colored men are converted into slaves not only by law, but also
contrary to law. It is, of course, difficult to estimate the extent
to which illegal kidnapping is carried, since a large number of
cases must escape detection. In a work published by Judge Stroud, of
Philadelphia, in 1827, he states, that it had been _ascertained_
that more than _thirty_ free colored persons, mostly children, had
been kidnapped in that city within the last two years.
[Footnote 104: Stroud's Sketch of the Slave Laws, p. 94.]
10. SUBJECTION TO INSULT AND OUTRAGE.
The feeling of the community towards these people, and the contempt
with which they are treated, are indicated by the following notice,
lately published by the proprietors of a menagerie, in New York.
"The proprietors wish it to be understood, that people of color are
not permitted to enter, _except when in attendance upon children and
families_." For two shillings, any white scavenger would be freely
admitted, and so would negroes, provided they came in a capacity
that marked their dependence--their presence is offensive, _only_
when they come as independent spectators, gratifying a laudable
Even death, the great leveller, is not permitted to obliterate, among
Christians, the distinction of caste, or to rescue the lifeless form
of the colored man from the insults of his white brethren. In the
porch of a Presbyterian Church, in Philadelphia, in 1837, was
suspended a card, containing the form of a deed, to be given to
purchasers of lots in a certain burial ground, and to enhance the
value of the property, and to entice buyers, the following clause was
inserted, "No person of _color_, nor any one who has been the
subject of _execution_, shall be interred in said lot."
Our colored fellow-citizens, like others, are occasionally called to
pass from one place to another; and in doing so are compelled to
submit to innumerable hardships and indignities. They are frequently
denied seats in our stage coaches; and although admitted upon the
_decks_ of our steam boats, are almost universally excluded from
the cabins. Even women have been forced, in cold weather, to pass
the night upon deck, and in one instance the wife of a colored
clergyman lost her life in consequence of such an exposure.
The contempt poured upon these people by our laws, our churches, our
seminaries, our professions, naturally invokes upon their heads the
fierce wrath of vulgar malignity. In order to exhibit the actual
condition of this portion of our population, we will here insert
some _samples_ of the outrages to which they are subjected, taken
from the ordinary public journals.
In an account of the New York riots of 1834, the _Commercial
Advertiser_ says--"About twenty poor African (native American)
families, have had their all destroyed, and have neither bed,
clothing, nor food remaining. Their houses are completely eviscerated,
their furniture a wreck, and the ruined and disconsolate tenants of
the devoted houses are reduced to the necessity of applying to the
corporation for bread."
The example set in New York was zealously followed in Philadelphia.
"Some arrangement, it appears, existed between the mob and the white
inhabitants, as the dwelling houses of the latter, contiguous to the
residences of the blacks, were illuminated and left undisturbed,
while the huts of the negroes were singled out with unerring
certainty. The furniture found in these houses was generally broken
up and destroyed--beds ripped open and their contents scattered in
the streets.... The number of houses assailed was not less than
twenty. In one house there was a _corpse, which was thrown from the
coffin, and in another a dead infant was taken out of the bed, and
cast on the floor, the mother being at the same time barbarously
"No case is reported of an attack having been _invited_ or _provoked_
by the residents of the dwellings assailed or destroyed. The extent
of the depredations committed on the _three_ evenings of riot and
outrage can only be judged of by the number of houses damaged or
destroyed. So far as ascertained, this amounts to FORTY-FIVE. One of
the houses assaulted was occupied by an unfortunate cripple--who,
unable to fly from the fury of the mob, was so beaten by some of the
ruffians, that he has since died in consequence of the bruises and
wounds inflicted ... For the last two days the Jersey steam boats
have been loaded with numbers of the colored population, who,
fearful their lives were not safe in this, determined to seek refuge
in another State. On the Jersey side, tents were erected, and the
negroes have taken up a temporary residence, until a prospect shall
be offered for their perpetual location in some place of security
and liberty."--_National Gazette_.
The facts we have now exhibited, abundantly prove the extreme
cruelty and sinfulness of that prejudice against color which we are
impiously told is an ORDINATION OF PROVIDENCE. Colonizationists,
assuming the prejudice to be natural and invincible, propose to
remove its victims beyond its influence. Abolitionists, on the
contrary, remembering with the Psalmist, that "It is HE that hath
made us, and not we ourselves," believe that the benevolent Father
of us all requires us to treat with justice and kindness every
portion of the human family, notwithstanding any particular
organization he has been pleased to impress upon them. Instead,
therefore, of gratifying and fostering this prejudice, by
continually banishing from our country those against whom it is
directed, Abolitionists are anxious to destroy the prejudice itself;
feeling, to use the language of another, that--"It is time to
recognize in the humblest portions of society, partakers of our
nature with all its high prerogatives and awful destinies--time to
remember that our distinctions are _exterior_ and evanescent, our
resemblance real and permanent--that all is transient but what is
moral and spiritual--that the only graces we can carry with us into
another world, are graces of divine implantation, and that amid the
rude incrustations of poverty and ignorance there lurks an
imperishable jewel--a SOUL, susceptible of the highest spiritual
beauty, destined, perhaps, to adorn the celestial abodes, and to
shine for ever in the mediatorial diadem of the Son of God--_Take
heed that ye despise not one of these little ones_."
THE ANTI-SLAVERY EXAMINER.
* * * * *
CAN ABOLITIONISTS VOTE OR TAKE OFFICE UNDER
THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION?
"The preservation, propagation, and perpetuation of slavery
is the vital and animating spirit of the National Government."
AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY,
142 NASSAU STREET
The American Anti-Slavery Society, at its Annual Meeting in May, 1844,
adopted the following Resolution:
_Resolved_, That secession from the present United States
government is the duty of every abolitionist; since no one can take
office, or throw a vote for another to hold office, under the United
States Constitution, without violating his anti-slavery principles,
and rendering himself an abettor of the slaveholder in his sin.
The passage of this Resolution has caused two charges to be brought
against the Society: _First_, that it is a _no-government_ body,
and that the whole doctrine of non-resistance is endorsed by this
vote:--and _secondly_, that the Society transcended its proper
sphere and constitutional powers by taking such a step.
The logic which infers that because a man thinks the Federal
Government bad, he must necessarily think _all_ government so, has
at least, the merit and the charm of novelty. There is a spice of
arrogance just perceptible, in the conclusion that the Constitution
of these United States is so perfect, that one who dislikes it could
never be satisfied with any form of government whatever!
Were O'Connell and his fellow Catholics non-resistants, because for
two hundred years they submitted to exclusion from the House of
Lords and the House of Commons, rather than qualify themselves for a
seat by an oath abjuring the Pope? Were the _non-juring_ Bishops of
England non-resistants, when they went down to the grave without
taking their seats in the House of Lords, rather than take an oath
denying the Stuarts and to support the House of Hanover? Both might
have purchased power at the price of one annual falsehood. There are
some in this country who do not seem to think that price at all
unreasonable. It were a rare compliment indeed to the non-resistants,
if every exhibition of rigid principle on the part of an individual
is to make the world suspect him of leaning towards their faith.
The Society is not opposed to government, but only to _this_
Government based upon and acting for slavery.
With regard to the second charge, of exceeding its proper limits and
trespassing on the rights of the minority, it is enough to say, that
the object of the American Anti-Slavery Society is the "entire
abolition of slavery in the United States." Of course it is its duty
to find out all the sources of pro-slavery influence in the land. It
is its right, it is its duty to try every institution in the land,
no matter how venerable, or sacred, by the touchstone of
anti-slavery principle; and if it finds any one false, to proclaim
that fact to the world, with more or less of energy, according to
its importance in society. It has tried the Constitution, and
pronounced it unsound.
No member's conscience need be injured--The qualification for
membership remains the same, "the belief that slave-holding is a
heinous crime"--No new test has been set up--But the majority of the
Society, for the time being, faithful to its duty of trying every
institution by the light of the present day--of uttering its opinion
on every passing event that touches the slave's welfare, has seen it
to be duty to sound forth its warning,
NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS.
No one who did not vote for the Resolution is responsible for it. No
one is asked to quit our platform. We, the majority, only ask him to
extend to our opinions the same toleration that we extend to him,
and agreeing to differ on this point, work together where we can. We
proscribe no man for difference of opinion.
It is said, that having refused in 1840, to say that a man _ought to
vote_, on the ground that such a resolution would be tyrannical and
intolerant, the Society is manifestly inconsistent now in taking
upon itself to say that no abolitionist _can_ consistently vote. But
the inconsistency is only apparent and not real.
There may he a thousand reasons why a particular individual ought
not to do an act, though the act be innocent in itself. It would be
tyranny therefore in a society which can properly take notice of but
one subject, slavery, to promulgate the doctrine that all its
members ought to do any particular act, as for instance, to vote, to
give money, to lecture, to petition, or the like. The particular
circumstances and opinions of each one must regulate his actions.
All we have a right to ask is, that he do for the slave's cause as
much as he does for any other of equal importance. But when an act
is wrong, it is no intolerance to say to the whole world that it
ought _not to be done_. After the abolitionist has granted that
slavery is wrong, we have the right to judge him by his own
principles, and arraign him for inconsistency that, so believing, he
helps the slaveholder by his oath.
The following pages have been hastily thrown together in explanation
of the vote above recited. They make no pretension to a full
argument of the topic. I hope that in a short time I shall get
leisure sufficient to present to our opponents, unless some one does
it for me, a full statement of the reasons which have led us to this
I am aware that we non-voters are rather singular. But history, from
the earliest Christians downwards, is full of instances of men who
refused all connection with government, and all the influence which
office could bestow, rather than deny their principles, or aid in
doing wrong. Yet I never heard them called either idiots or
over-scrupulous. Sir Thomas More need never have mounted the scaffold,
had he only consented to take the oath of supremacy. He had only to
tell a lie with solemnity, as we are asked to do, and he might not
only have saved his life, but, as the trimmers of his day would have
told him, doubled his influence. Pitt resigned his place as Prime
Minister of England, rather than break faith with the Catholics of
Ireland. Should I not resign a petty ballot rather than break faith
with the slave? But I was specially glad to find a distinct
recognition of the principle upon which we have acted, applied to a
different point, in the life of that Patriarch of the Anti-Slavery
enterprise, Granville Sharpe. It is in a late number of the
Edinburgh Review. While an underclerk in the War Office, he
sympathized with our fathers in their struggle for independence.
"Orders reached his office to ship munitions of war to the revolted
colonies. If his hand had entered the account of such a cargo, it
would have contracted in his eyes the stain of innocent blood. To
avoid this pollution, he resigned his place and his means of
subsistence at a period of life when be could no longer hope to find
any other lucrative employment." As the thoughtful clerk of the War
Office takes his hat down from the peg where it has used to hang for
twenty years, methinks I hear one of our opponents cry out,
"Friend Sharpe, you are absurdly scrupulous." "You may innocently
aid Government in doing wrong," adds another. While Liberty Party
yelps at his heels, "My dear Sir, you are quite losing your influence!"
And indeed it is melancholy to reflect how, from that moment the
mighty underclerk of the War Office(!) dwindled into the mere
Granville Sharpe of history! the man of whom Mansfield and Hargrave
were content to learn law, and Wilberforce, philanthropy.
One friend proposes to vote for men who shall be pledged not to take
office unless the oath to the Constitution is dispensed with, and
who shall then go on to perform in their offices only such duties as
we, their constituents, approve. He cites, in support of his view,
the election of O'Connell to the House of Commons, in 1828, I believe,
just one year before the "Oath of Supremacy," which was the
objectionable one to the Catholics, was dispensed with. Now, if we
stood in the same circumstances as the Catholics did in 1828, the
example would be in point. When the public mind is thoroughly
revolutionized, and ready for the change, when the billow has
reached its height and begins to crest into foam, then such a
measure may bring matters to a crisis. But let us first go through,
in patience, as O'Connell did, our twenty years of agitation.
Waiving all other objections, this plan seems to me mere playing at
politics, and an entire waste of effort.
It loses our high position as moral reformers; it subjects us to all
that malignant opposition and suspicion of motives which attend the
array of parties; and while thus closing up our access to the
national conscience, it wastes in fruitless caucussing and party
tactics, the time and the effort which should have been directed to
The history of our Union is lesson enough, for every candid mind, of
the fatal effects of every, the least, compromise with evil. The
experience of the fifty years passed under it, shows us the slaves
trebling in numbers;--slaveholders monopolizing the offices and
dictating the policy of the Government;--prostituting the strength
and influence of the Nation to the support of slavery here and
elsewhere;--trampling on the rights of the free States, and making
the courts of the country their tools. To continue this disastrous
alliance longer is madness. The trial of fifty years only proves
that it is impossible for free and slave States to unite on any terms,
without all becoming partners in the guilt and responsible for the
sin of slavery. Why prolong the experiment? Let every honest man
join in the outcry of the American Anti-Slavery Society,
NO UNION WITH SLAVEHOLDERS.
_Boston, Jan_. 15, 1845.
THE NO-VOTING THEORY.
"God never made a CITIZEN, and no one will escape as a man, from the
sins which he commits as a citizen."
Can an abolitionist consistently take office, or vote, under the
Constitution of the United States?
1st. What is an abolitionist?
One who thinks slaveholding a sin in all circumstances, and desires
its abolition. Of course such an one cannot consistently aid another
in holding his slave;--in other words, I cannot innocently aid a man
in doing that which I think wrong. No amount of fancied good will
justify me in joining another in doing wrong, unless I adopt the
principle "of doing evil that good may come."
2d. What do taking office and voting under the Constitution imply?
The President swears "to execute the office of president," and
"to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United
States." The judges "to discharge the duties incumbent upon them
agreeably to the constitution and laws of the United States."
All executive, legislative, and judicial officers, both of the
several States and of the General Government, before entering on the
performance of their official duties, are bound to take an oath or
affirmation, "_to support the Constitution of the United States_."
This is what every office-holder expressly _promises in so many
words_. It is a contract between him and the _whole nation_. The
voter, who, by voting, sends his fellow citizen into office as his
representative, knowing beforehand that the taking of this oath is
the first duty his agent will have to perform, does by his vote,
request and authorize him to take it. He therefore, by voting,
impliedly engages to support the Constitution. What one does by his
agent he does himself. Of course no honest man will authorize and
request another to do an act which he thinks it wrong to do himself!
Every voter, therefore, is bound to see, _before voting_, whether he
could himself honestly swear to _support_ the constitution. Now what
does this oath of office-holders relate to and imply? "It applies,"
says Chief Justice Marshall, "in an especial manner, to their conduct
in their official character." Judge Story, in his Commentaries on the
Constitution, speaks of it as "a solemn obligation to the due
execution of the trusts reposed in them, and to support the
Constitution." It is universally considered throughout the country,
by common men and by the courts, as a promise to do what the
Constitution bids, and to avoid what it forbids. It was in the
spirit of this oath, under which he spake, that Daniel Webster said
in New York, "The Constitution gave it (slavery) SOLEMN GUARANTIES.
To the full extent of these guaranties we are all bound by the
Constitution. All the stipulations contained in the Constitution in
favor of the slaveholding States ought to be fulfilled; and so far
as depends on me, shall be fulfilled, in the fulness of their spirit
and to the exactness of their letter."
It is more than an oath of allegiance; more than a mere promise that
we will not resist the laws. For it is an engagement to "support them";
as an _officer_ of government, to carry them into effect. Without
such a promise on the part of its functionaries, how could
government exist? It is more than the expression of that obligation
which rests on all peaceable citizens to _submit_ to laws, even
though they will not actively _support_ them. For it is the promise
which the judge makes, that he will actually _do_ the business of
the courts; which the sheriff assumes, that he will actually _execute_
Let it be remarked, that it is an oath to support _the_
Constitution--that is, _the whole of it_; there are no exceptions.
And let it be remembered, that by it each _one_ makes a contract
with the _whole_ nation, that he will do certain acts.
3d. What is the Constitution which each voter thus engages to support?
It contains the following clauses:
Art. 1, Sect. 2. Representatives and direct taxes shall be
apportioned among the several States, which may be included within
this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be
determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including
those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians
not taxed, _three fifths of all other persons_.
Art. 1, Sect. 8. Congress shall have power ... to suppress
Art. 4, Sec. 2. No person, held to service or labor in one State,
under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence
of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or
labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such
service or labor may be due.
Art. 4, Sect. 4. The United States shall guarantee to every State in
this Union a republican form of government; and shall protect each
of them against invasion; and, on application of the legislature, or
of the executive, (when the legislature cannot be convened) _against
The first of these clauses, relating to representation, gives to
10,000 inhabitants of Carolina equal weight in the government with
40,000 inhabitants of Massachusetts, provided they are rich enough
to hold 50,000 slaves:--and accordingly confers on a slaveholding
community additional political power for every slave held among them,
thus tempting them to continue to uphold the system.
Its result has been, in the language of John Quincy Adams, "to make
the preservation, propagation, and perpetuation of slavery the vital
and animating spirit of the National Government;" and again, to
enable "a knot of slaveholders to give the law and prescribe the
policy of the country." So that "since 1830 slavery, slaveholding,
slavebreeding, and slavetrading have formed the whole foundation of
the policy of the Federal Government." The second and the last
articles relating to insurrection and domestic violence, perfectly
innocent in themselves--yet being made with the fact directly in
view that slavery exists among us, do deliberately pledge the whole
national force against the unhappy slave if he imitate our fathers
and resist oppression--thus making us partners in the guilt of
sustaining slavery: the third is a promise, on the part of the whole
North, to return fugitive slaves to their masters; a deed which
God's law expressly condemns, and which every noble feeling of our
nature repudiates with loathing and contempt.
These are the clauses which the abolitionist, by voting or taking
office, engages to uphold. While he considers slaveholding to be sin,
he still rewards the master with additional political power for
every additional slave that he can purchase. Thinking slaveholding
to be sin, he pledges to the master the aid of the whole army and
navy of the nation to reduce his slave again to chains, should he at
any time succeed a moment in throwing them off. Thinking
slaveholding to be sin, he goes on, year after year, appointing by
his vote judges and marshals to aid in hunting up the fugitives, and
seeing that they are delivered back to those who claim them! How
beautifully consistent are his _principles_ and his _promises_!
Allowing that the clause relating to representation and that relating
to insurrections are immoral, it is contended that the article which
orders the return of fugitive slaves was not meant to apply to slaves,
but has been misconstrued and misapplied!
ANSWER. The meaning of the other two clauses, settled as it has been
by the unbroken practice and cheerful acquiescence of the Government
and people, no one has attempted to deny. This also has the same
length of practice, and the same acquiescence, to show that it
relates to slaves. No one denies that the Government and Courts have
so construed it, and that the great body of the people have freely
concurred in and supported this construction. And further, "The
Madison Papers" (containing the debates of those who framed the
Constitution, at the time it was made) settle beyond all doubt what
meaning the framers intended to convey.
Look at the following extracts from those Papers:
_Tuesday, August 28th_, 1787.
Mr. Butler and Mr. Pinckney moved to require "fugitive slaves and
servants to be delivered up like criminals."
Mr. Wilson. This would oblige the Executive of the State to do it,
at the public expense.
Mr. Sherman saw no more propriety in the public seizing and
surrendering a slave or servant, than a horse.
Mr. Butler withdrew his proposition, in order that some particular
provision might be made, apart from this article.
Article 15, as amended, was then agreed to, _nem. con._--Madison
papers, pp. 1447-8.
_Wednesday, August_ 29, 1787.
Mr. Butler moved to insert after Article 15, "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 regulations subsisting in the State
to which they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly
claiming their service or labor,"--which was agreed to, _nem.
And again, after the wording of the above article had been slightly
changed, and the clause newly numbered, as in the present
Constitution, we find another statement most clearly showing to what
subject the whole was intended to refer:
_Saturday, September_ 15, 1787.
Article 4, Section 2, (the third paragraph,) the term "legally" was
struck out; and the words, "under the laws thereof," inserted after
the word "State," in compliance with the wish of some who thought
the term legal equivocal, and favoring the idea that SLAVERY was
_legal_ in a moral view.--p. 1589.
Is it not hence evident that SLAVERY was the subject referred to by
the whole article?
The debates of the Convention held in the several States to ratify
the Constitution, at the same time show clearly what meaning it was
thought the framers had conveyed:--In Virginia Mr. Madison said,
Another clause secures to us that property which we now possess. At
present, if any slave elopes to any of those States where slaves are
free, he becomes emancipated by their laws. For the laws of the
States are uncharitable to one another in this respect. But in this
Constitution, "no person held to service, or labor, in one State,
under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence
of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or
labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such
service or labor may be due." This clause was expressly inserted to
enable owners of slaves to reclaim them. This is a better security
than any that now exists.
Patrick Henry, in reply observed,
The clause which had been adduced by the gentleman was no more than
this--that a runaway negro could be taken up in Maryland or New
Governor Randolph said,
But another clause of the Constitution proves the absurdity of the
supposition. The words of the clause are, "No person held to service
or labor in one State," &c. Every one knows that slaves are held to
service and labor. If a citizen of this State, in consequence of
this clause, can take his runaway slave in Maryland, &c.
General Pinckney in South Carolina Convention observed,
"We have obtained a right to recover our slaves, in whatever part of
America they may take refuge, which is a right we had not before."
In North Carolina, Mr. Iredell
Begged leave to explain the reason of this clause. In some of the
Northern States, they have emancipated all their slaves. If any of
our slaves, said he, go there and remain there a certain time, they
would, by the present laws, be entitled to their freedom, so that
their masters could not get them again. This would be extremely
prejudicial to the inhabitants of the Southern States, and to
prevent it, this clause is inserted in the Constitution. Though the
word _slave_ be not mentioned, this is the meaning of it. The
Northern delegates, owing to their particular scruples on the
subject of slavery, did not choose the word _slave_ to be mentioned.
But even if TWO clauses are immoral that is enough for our purpose,
and shews that no honest man should engage to uphold them. Who has
the right to construe and expound the laws? Of course the Courts of
the Nation. The Constitution provides (Article 3, Section 2,) that
the Supreme Court shall be the final and only interpreter of its
meaning. What says the Supreme Court? That this clause does relate
to slaves, and order their return. All the other courts concur in
this opinion. But, say some, the courts are corrupt on this question.
Let us appeal to the people. Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of
every thousand answer, that the courts have construed it rightly,
and almost as many cheerfully support it. If the unanimous,
concurrent, unbroken practice of every department of the Government,
judicial, legislative, and executive, and the acquiescence of the
people for fifty years, do not prove which is the true construction,
then how and where can such a question ever be settled? If the
people and the courts of the land do not know what they themselves
mean, who has authority to settle their meaning for them?
If the Constitution is not what history, unbroken practice, and the
courts prove that our fathers intended to make it, and what too,
their descendants, this nation say they did make it, and agree to
uphold,--who shall decide what the Constitution is?
This is the sense then in which the Nation understand that the
promise is made to them. The Nation _understand_ that the judge
pledges himself to return fugitive slaves. The judge knows this when
he takes the oath. And Paley expresses the opinion of all writers on
morals, as well as the conviction of all honest men, when he says,
"that a promise is binding in that sense in which the promiser
thought at the time that the other party understood it."
A promise to do an immoral act is not binding: therefore an oath to
support the Constitution of the United States, does not bind one to
support any provisions of that instrument which are repugnant to his
ideas of right. And an abolitionist, thinking it wrong to return
slaves, may as an office-holder, innocently and properly take an
oath to support a Constitution which commands such return.
ANSWER. Observe that this objection allows the Constitution to be
pro-slavery, and admits that there are clauses in it which no
abolitionist ought to carry out or support.
And observe, further, that we all agree, that a bad promise is
better broken than kept--that every abolitionist, who has before now
taken the oath to the Constitution, is bound to break it, and
disobey the pro-slavery clauses of that instrument. So far there is
no difference between us. But the point in dispute now is, whether a
man, having found out that certain requirements of the Constitution
are wrong, can, after that, innocently swear to support and obey them,
_all the while meaning not to do so_.
Now I contend that such loose construction of our promises is
contrary alike to honor, to fair dealing, and to truthfulness--that
it tends to destroy utterly that confidence between man and man
which binds society together, and leads, in matters of government,
to absolute tyranny.
The Constitution is a series of contracts made by each individual
with every other of the fourteen millions. A man's oath is evidence
of his assent to this contract. If I offer a man the copy of an
agreement, and he, after reading, swears to perform it, have I not a
right to infer from his oath that he assents to the _rightfulness_
of the articles of that paper? What more solemn form of expressing
his assent could he select? A man's oath expresses his conviction of
the rightfulness of the actions he promises to do, as well as his
determination to do them. If this be not so, I can have no trust in
any man's word. He may take my money, promise to do what I wish in
return, and yet, keeping my money, tell me, on the morrow, that he
shall not keep his promise, and never meant to, because the act, his
conscience tells him, is wrong. Who would trust property to such men,
or such maxims in the common affairs of life? Shall we not be as
honest in the Senate House as on 'Change? The North makes a contract
with the South by which she receives certain benefits, and agrees to
render certain services. The benefits she carefully keeps--but the
services she refuses to render, because immoral contracts are not
binding! Is this fair dealing? It is the rule alike of law and
common sense, that if we are not able, from _any cause_, to furnish
the article we have agreed to, we ought to return the pay we have
received. If power is put into our hands on certain conditions, and
we find ourselves unable to comply with those conditions, we ought
to surrender the power back to those who gave it.
Immoral laws are doubtless void, and should not be obeyed. But the
question is here, whether one knowing a law to be immoral, may
innocently promise to obey it in order to get into office? The
people have settled the conditions on which one may take office. The
first is, that he assent to their Constitution. Is it honest to
accept power with the intention at the time of not keeping the
conditions?--The rightfulness of those conditions is not here the
I swear to support the Constitution, _as I understand it_. Certain
parts of it, in my opinion, contradict others and are therefore void.
ANSWER. Will any one take the title deed of his house and carry it
to the man he bought of, and let him keep the covenants of that
paper as he says "he understands them?" Do we not all recognize the
justice of having some third, disinterested party to judge between
two disputants about the meaning of contracts? Who ever heard of a
contract of which each party was at liberty to keep as much as he
As in all other contracts, so in that of the Constitution, there is
a power provided to affix the proper construction to the instrument,
and that construction both parties are bound to abide by, or
repudiate the _whole_ contract. That power is the Supreme Court of
the United States.
Do we seek the common sense, practical view of this question? Go to
the Exchange and ask any broker how many dollars he will trust any
man with, who avows his right to make promises with the design, at
the time, of breaking some parts, and not feeling called upon to
state which those parts will be?
Do you seek the moral view of the point, which philosophers have
taken? Paley says, "A promise is binding in that sense in which the
promiser thought at the time of making that the other party
understood it." Is there any doubt what meaning the great body of
the American people attach to the Constitution and the official oath?
They are that party to whom the promise is made.
But, say some, our lives are notice to the whole people what meaning
we attach to the oath, and we will protest when we swear, that we do
not include in our oath the pro-slavery clauses. You may as well
utter the protest now, as when you are swearing--or at home, equally
as well as within the State House. For no such protest can be of any
avail. The Chief Justice stands up to administer to me the oath of
some office, no matter which. "Sir," say I, "I must take that oath
with a qualification, excluding certain clauses." His reply will be,
"Sir, I have no discretion in this matter. I am here merely to
administer a prescribed form of oath. If you assent to it, you are
qualified for your station. If you do not, you cannot enter. I have
no authority given me to listen to exceptions. I am a servant--the
people are my masters--here is what they require that you support,
not this or that part of the Constitution, but '_the Constitution_,'
that is, the _whole_."
Baffled here, I turn to the people. I publish my opinions in
newspapers. I proclaim them at conventions, I spread them through
the country on the wings of a thousand presses. Does this avail me?
Yes, says Liberty party, if after this, men choose to vote for you,
it is evident they mean you shall take the oath as you have given
notice that you understand it.
Well, the voters in Boston, with this understanding, elect me to
Congress, and I proceed to Washington. But here arises a
difficulty,--my constituents at home have assented--but when I get
to Congress, I find I am not the representative of Boston only, but
of the whole country. The interests of Carolina are committed to my
hands as well as those of Massachusetts; I find that the contract I
made by my oath was not with Boston, but with the whole nation. It
is the _nation_ that gives me the power to declare war and make
peace--to lay taxes on cotton, and control the commerce of New
Orleans. The nation prescribed the conditions in 1789, when the
Constitution was settled, and though Boston may be willing to accept
me on other terms, Carolina is not willing. Boston has accepted my
protest, and says, "Take office." Carolina says, "The oath you swear
is sworn to me, as well as to the rest--I demand the whole bond."
In other words, when I have made my protest, what evidence is there
that _the nation_, the other party to the contract, assents to it?
There can be none until that nation amends its Constitution.
Massachusetts when she accepted that Constitution, bound herself to
send only such men as could swear to return slaves. If by an underhand
compromise with some of her citizens, she sends persons of other
sentiments, she is perjured, and any one who goes on such an errand
is a partner in the perjury. Massachusetts has no right to assent to
my protest--she has no right to send representatives, except on
certain conditions. She cannot vary those conditions, without
leave from those whose interests are to be affected by the change,
that is, the whole nation. Those conditions are written down in the
Constitution. Do she and South Carolina differ, as to the meaning?
The Court will decide for them.
But, says the objector, do you mean to say that I swear to support
the Constitution, not as I understand it, but as some judge
understands it? Yes, I do--otherwise there is no such thing as law.
This right of private judgment, for which he contends, exists in
religion--but not in Government. Law is a rule _prescribed_. The
party prescribing must have the right to construe his own rule,
otherwise there would be as many laws as there are individual
consciences. Statutes would be but recommendations if every man was
at liberty to understand and obey them as he thought proper. But I
need not argue this. The absurdity of a Government that has no right
to govern--and of laws which have no fixed meaning--but which each
man construes to mean what he pleases and obeys accordingly--must be
evident to every one.
What more power did the most despotic of the English Stuarts ask,
than the right, after having sworn to laws, to break such as their
consciences disapproved? It is the essence of tyranny.
What is the Constitution of the United States? In good old fashioned
times we thought we knew, when we had read it and listened to the
court's exposition. But we have improved upon that. The Liberty
party man says, it is for him "what he understands it." John C.
Calhoun, of course, has the same right, and instead of "Liberty
regulated by law," we have liberty regulated by fourteen millions of
The Liberty party man takes office on conditions, which, he says,
are not binding upon him. He gives us notice that he shall use the
power as he thinks right, without any regard to these conditions of
his oath. Well, if this is law, it is good for all. John C. Calhoun
can of course take office with the same broad liberty, and swear to
support the Constitution "as _he_ understands it." He has told us
often what that "understanding" is--"to sustain Slavery." Of course
having made this public, if, after that, Carolina sends him,
according to Liberty party logic, it is evidence that Massachusetts
assents to his "understanding," and accepts his oath with that
meaning! Why I thought I had fathomed the pro-slavery depths of the
Constitution when I read over all its wicked clauses--but that is
skimming only the surface, if the Constitution allows every man, to
whom it commits power to use it, as he chooses to "understand" the
conditions, and not as the nation understands them. If with this
right, Abolitionists may take office and help Liberty, we must
remember that by the same rule, slaveholders may take office and
lawfully use all their power to help Slavery. If this be so, how
absurd to keep crying out of this and the other thing it is
Away with such logic! If we have a Constitution, let us remember
Jefferson's advice, and not make it "waste paper by construction."
The man who tampers thus with the sacred obligation of an
oath,--swears, and Jesuit like, keeps "reserved meanings" in his own
breast,--does more harm to society by loosening the foundations of
morals, than he would do good, did his one falsehood free every
slave from the Potomac to the Del Norte.
"The oath does not mean that I will positively do what I swear to do,
but only that I will do it, _or submit_ to the penalty the law awards.
If my actions in office don't suit the nation, let them impeach me."
ANSWER. That is, John Tyler may, without consulting Congress, plunge
us into war with Mexico--incur fifty millions of public debt--lose a
hundred thousand lives--and the _sufficient recompense_ to this
nation will be to impeach John Tyler, Esq., and send him home to his
slaves! These are the wise safeguards of Constitutional liberty! He
has faithfully kept it "as he understands it." What is a Russian
slave? One who holds life, property, and all, at the mercy of the
Czar's idea of right. Does not this description of the power every
officer has here, under our Constitution, reduce Americans to the
But, is it true that the bearing of the penalty is an excuse for
breach of our official oaths?
The Judge who, in questions of divorce, has trifled with the
sanctity of the marriage tie--who, in matters of property has
decided unjustly, and taken bribes--in capital cases has so dealt
judgment as to send innocent men to the gallows--may cry out,
"If you don't like me, impeach me." But will impeachment restore the
dead to life, or the husband to his defamed wife? Would the community
consider his submission to impeachment as equivalent to the keeping
of his oath of office, and thenceforward view him as an honest,
truth-speaking, unperjured man? It is idle to suppose so. Yet the
interests committed to some of our officeholders' keeping, are more
important often than even those which a Judge controls. And we must
remember that men's ideas of right always differ. To admit such a
principle into the construction of oaths, if it enable one man to do
much good, will enable scoundrels who creep into office to do much
harm, "according to _their_ consciences." But yet the rule, if it be
admitted, must be universal. Liberty becomes, then, matter of
I shall resign whenever a case occurs that requires me to aid in
returning a fugitive slave.
ANSWER. "The office-holder has promised active obedience to the
Constitution in every exigency which it has contemplated and sought
to provide for. If he promised, not meaning to perform in certain
cases, is he not doubly dishonest? Dishonest to his own conscience
in promising to do wrong, and to his fellow-citizens in purposing
from the first to break his oath, as he knew they understood it? If
he had sworn, not regarding anything as immoral which he bound
himself to do, and afterwards found in the oath something against
his conscience of which he was not at first aware, or if by change
of views he had come to deem sinful what before he thought right,
then doubtless, by promptly resigning, he might escape guilt. But is
not the case different, when among the acts promised are some known
at the time to be morally wrong? 'It is a sin to swear unto sin,'
says the poet, although it be, as he truly adds, 'a greater sin to
keep the sinful oath.'"
The captain has no right to put to sea, and resign when the storm
comes. Besides what supports a wicked government more than good men
taking office under it, even though they secretly determine not to
carry out all its provisions? The slave balancing in his lonely
hovel the chance of escape, knows nothing of your secret reservations,
your future intentions. He sees only the swarming millions at the
North ostensibly sworn to restore him to his master, if he escape a
little way. Perchance it is your false oath, which you don't mean to
keep, that makes him turn from the attempt in despair. He knows you
only--the world knows only by your _actions_, not your _intentions_,
and those side with his master. The prayer which he lifts to Heaven,
in his despair, numbers you rightly among his oppressors.
I shall only take such an office as brings me into no connection
ANSWER. Government is a whole; unless each in his circle aids his
next neighbor, the machine will stand still. The Senator does not
himself return the fugitive slave, but he appoints the Marshal,
whose duty it is to do so. The State representative does not himself
appoint the Judge who signs the warrant for the slave's recapture,
but he chooses the United States Senator who does appoint that Judge.
The elector does not himself order out the militia to resist
"domestic violence," but he elects the President, whose duty requires,
that a case occurring, he should do so.
To suppose that each of these may do that part of his duty that
suits him, and leave the rest undone, is _practical anarchy_. It is
bringing ourselves precisely to that state which the Hebrew describes.
"In those days there was no king in Israel, but each man did what
was right in his own eyes." This is all consistent in us, who hold
that man is to do right, even if anarchy follows. How absurd to set
up such a scheme, and miscall it a _government_,--where nobody
governs, but everybody does as he pleases.
As men and all their works are imperfect, we may innocently
"support a Government which, along with many blessings, assists in
the perpetration of some wrong."
ANSWER. As nobody disputes that we may rightly assist the worst
Government in doing good, provided we can do so without at the same
time aiding it in the wrong it perpetrates, this must mean, of course,
that it is right to aid and obey a Government _in doing wrong_, if
we think that, on the whole, the Government effects more good than
harm. Otherwise the whole argument is irrelevant, for this is the
point in dispute; since every office of any consequence under the
United States Constitution has some immediate connection with Slavery.
Let us see to what lengths this principle will carry one. Herod's
servants, then, were right in slaying every child in Bethlehem, from
two years old and under, provided they thought Herod's Government,
on the whole, more a blessing than a curse to Judea! The soldiers of
Charles II. were justified in shooting the Covenanters on the muirs
of Scotland, if they thought his rule was better, on the whole, for
England, than anarchy! According to this theory, the moment the
magic wand of Government touches our vices, they start up into
virtues! But has Government any peculiar character or privilege in
this respect? Oh, no--Government is only an association of
individuals, and the same rules of morality which govern my conduct
in relation to a thousand men, ought to regulate my conduct to any
one. Therefore, I may innocently aid a man in doing wrong, if I
think that, on the whole, he has more virtues than vices. If he
gives bread to the hungry six days in the week, I may rightly help
him, on the seventh, in forging bank notes, or murdering his father!
The principle goes this length, and every length, or it cannot be
proved to exist at all. It ends at last, practically, in the old
maxim, that the subject and the soldier have no right to keep any
conscience, but have only to obey the rulers they serve: for there
are few, if any, Governments this side of Satan's, which could not,
in some sense, be said to do more good than harm. Now I candidly
confess, that I had rather be covered all over with inconsistencies,
in the struggle to keep my hands clean, than settle quietly down on
such a principle as this. It is supposing that we may--
"To do a great right, do a little wrong;"
a rule, which the master poet of human nature has rebuked. It is
doing evil that good may come--a doctrine, of which an Apostle has
pronounced the condemnation.
And let it be remembered that in dealing with the question of slavery,
we are not dealing with extreme cases. Slavery is no minute evil
which lynx-eyed suspicion has ferreted out. Every sixth man is a
slave. The ermine of justice is stained. The national banner clings
to the flag-staff heavy with blood. "The preservation of slavery,"
says our oldest and ablest statesman, "is the vital and animating
_spirit_ of the National Government."
Surely IF it be true that a man may justifiably stand connected with
a government in which he sees some slight evils--still it is also
true, even then, that governments _may_ sin so atrociously, so
enormously, may make evil so much the _purpose_ of their being, as
to render it the duty of honest men to wash their hands of them.
I may give money to a friend whose life has some things in it which
I do not fully approve--but when his nights are passed in the brothel,
and his days in drunkenness, when he uses his talents to seduce
others, and his gold to pave their road to ruin, surely the case is
I may perhaps sacrifice health by staying awhile in a room rather
overheated, but I shall certainly see it to be my duty to rush out,
when the whole house is in full blaze.
God intended that society and governments should exist. We therefore
are bound to support them. He has conferred upon us the rights of
citizenship in this country, and we cannot escape from the
responsibility of exercising them. God made us _citizens_.
ANSWER. This reminds me of an old story I have heard. When the
Legislature were asked to set off a portion of the town of
Dorchester and call it South Boston, the old minister of the town is
said to have objected, saying, "God made it Dorchester, and
Dorchester it ought to be."
God made us social beings, it is true, but _society_ is not
necessarily the Constitution of the United States! Because God meant
some form of government should exist, does not at all prove that we
are justified in supporting a wicked one. Man confers the rights and
regulates the duties of citizenship. God never made a _citizen_, and
no one will escape, as a man, from the sins he commits as a citizen.
This is the first time that it has ever been held an excuse for sin
that we "went with the multitude to do evil!"
Certainly we can be under no _such_ responsibility to become and
remain _citizens_, as will excuse us from the sinful acts which as
such citizens we are called to commit. Does God make obligatory on
his creature the support of institutions which require him to do
acts in themselves wrong? To suppose so, were to confound all the
rules of God's moral kingdom.
President Wayland has lately been illustrating, and giving his
testimony to the principle, that a combination of men cannot change
the moral character of an act, which is in itself sinful--that the
law of morals is binding the same on communities, corporations, &c.
as on individuals.
After describing slavery, and saying that to hold a man in such a
state is wrong--he goes on:
"I will offer but one more supposition. Suppose that any number, for
instance one half of the families in our neighborhood, should by law
enact that the weaker half should be slaves, that we would exercise
over them the authority of masters, prohibit by law their
instruction, and concert among ourselves means for holding them
permanently in their present situation. In what manner would this
alter the moral aspect of the case?"
A law in this case is merely a determination of one party, in which
all unite, to hold the other party in bondage; and a compact by
which the whole party bind themselves to assist every individual of
themselves to subdue all resistance from the other party, and
guaranteeing to each other that exercise of this power over the
weaker party which they now possess.
Now I cannot see that this in any respect changes the nature of the
parties. They remain, as before, human beings, possessing the same
intellectual and moral nature, holding the same relations to each
other and to God, and still under the same unchangeable law, Thou
shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. By the act of holding a man in
bondage, this law is violated. Wrong is done, moral evil is
committed. In the former case it was done by the individual; now it
is done by the individual and the society. Before, the individual
was responsible only for his own wrong; now he is responsible both
for his own, and also, as a member of the society, for all the wrong
which the society binds itself to uphold and render perpetual.