Part 52 out of 52
The scriptures frequently allude to the fact, that wrong done by
law, that is by society, is amenable to the same retribution as
wrong done by the individual. Thus, Psalm 94:20-23. 'Shall the
throne of iniquity have fellowship with them which frame mischief by
a law, and gather themselves together against the soul of the
righteous, and condemn the innocent blood? But the Lord is my
defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge. And he shall bring
upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own
wickedness; yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off' So also
Isaiah 10:1-4. 'Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and
that write grievousness which they have prescribed.' &c. Besides,
persecution for the sake of religious opinion is always perpetrated
by law; but this in no manner affects its moral character.
There is, however, one point of difference, which arises from the
fact that this wrong has been established by law. It becomes a
social wrong. The individual, or those who preceded him, may have
surrendered their individual right over it to the society. In this
case it may happen that the individual cannot act as he might act,
if the law had not been made. In this case the evil can only be
eradicated by changing the opinions of the society, and inducing
them to abolish the law. It will however be apparent that this, as I
said before, does not change the relation of the parties either to
each other or to God. The wrong exists as before. The individual act
is wrong. The law which protects it is wrong. The whole society, in
putting the law into execution, is wrong. Before only the
individual, now, the whole society, becomes the wrong doer, and
for that wrong, both the individuals and the society are held
responsible in the sight of God."
If such "individual act is wrong," the man who knowingly does it is
surely a sinner. Does God, through society, require men to sin?
If not being non-resistants, we concede to mankind the right to
frame Governments, which must, from the very nature of man, be more
or less evil, the right or duty to support them, when framed,
ANSWER. I do not think it follows at all. Mankind, that is, any
number of them, have a right to set up such forms of worship as they
see fit, but when they have done so, does it necessarily follow that
I am in duty bound to support any one of them, whether I approve it
or not? Government is precisely like any other voluntary association
of individuals--a temperance or anti-slavery society, a bank or
railroad corporation. I join it, or not, as duty dictates. If a
temperance society exists in the village where I am, that love for
my race which bids me seek its highest good, commands me to join it.
So if a Government is formed in the land where I live, the same
feeling bids me to support it, if I innocently can. This is the
whole length of my duty to Government. From the necessity of the case,
and that constitution of things which God has ordained, it follows
that in any specified district, the majority must rule--hence
results the duty of the minority to submit. But we must carefully
preserve the distinction between _submission_ and _obedience_
--between _submission_ and _support_. If the majority set up an
immoral Government, I obey those laws which seem to me good, because
they are good--and I submit to all the penalties which my
disobedience of the rest brings on me. This is alike the dictate of
common sense, and the command of Christianity. And it must be the
true doctrine, since any other obliges me to obey the majority if
they command me to commit murder, a rule which even the Tory
Blackstone has denied. Of course for me to do anything I deem wrong,
is the same, in quality, as to commit murder.
But it is said, your theory results in good men leaving government
to the dishonest and wicked.
ANSWER. Well, if to sustain government we must sacrifice honesty,
government could not be in a more appropriate place, than in the
hands of dishonest men.
But it by no means follows, that if I go out of government, I leave
nothing but dishonest men behind. An act may be sin to me, which
another may sincerely think right--and if so, let him do it, till he
changes his mind. I leave government in the hands of those whom I do
not think as clear-sighted as myself, but not necessarily in the
hands of the dishonest. Whether it be so in this country now, is not,
at present, the question, but whether it would be so necessarily, in
all cases. The real question is, what is the duty of those who
presume to think that God has given them clearer views of duty than
the bulk of those among whom they live?
Don't think us conceited in supposing ourselves a little more
enlightened than our neighbors. It is no great thing after all to be a
little better than a lynching--mobocratic--slaveholding--debt
What then is the duty of such men? Doubtless to do all they can to
extend to others the light they enjoy.
Will they best do so by compromising their principles? by letting
their political life give the lie to their life of reform? Who will
have the most influence, he whose life is consistent, or he who says
one thing to-day, and swears another thing to-morrow--who looks one
way and rows another? My object is to let men _understand me_, and I
submit that the body of the Roman people understood better, and felt
more earnestly, the struggle between the people and the princes,
when the little band of democrats _left the city_ and encamped on
_Mons Sacer, outside_, than while they remained mixed up and
voting with their masters, shoulder to shoulder. _Dissolution_ is
our _Mons Sacer_--God grant that it may become equally famous in the
world's history as the spot where the right triumphed.
It is foolish to suppose that the position of such men, divested of
the glare of official distinction, has no weight with the people. If
it were so, I am still bound to remember that I was not sent into
the world _to have influence_, but to do my duty according to my own
conscience. But it is not so. People do know an honest man when they
see him. (I allow that this is so rare an event now-a-days, as
almost to justify one in supposing they might have forgotten how he
looked.) They will give a man credit, when his life is one manly
testimony to the truthfulness of his lips. Even Liberty party, blind
as she is, has light enough to see that "Consistency is the jewel,
the everything of such a cause as ours." The position of a non-voter,
in a land where the ballot is so much idolized, kindles in every
beholder's bosom something of the warm sympathy which waits on the
persecuted, carries with it all the weight of a disinterested
testimony to truth, and pricks each voter's conscience with an
uneasy doubt, whether after all voting _is_ right. There is
constantly a Mordecai in the gate.
I admit that we should strive to have a _political_ influence--for
with politics is bound up much of the welfare of the people. But
this objection supposes that the ballot box is the _only_ means of
political influence. Now it is a good thing that every man should
have the right to vote. But it is by no means necessary that every
man should actually vote, in order to influence his times. We by no
means necessarily desert our social duty when we refuse to take
office, or to confer it. Lafayette did better service to the cause
of French liberty when he retired to Lagrange and refused to
acknowledge Napoleon, than he could have done had he stood, for years,
at the tyrant's right hand. From the silence of that chamber there
went forth a voice--from the darkness of that retreat there burst
forth a light; feeble indeed at first, like the struggling beams of
the morning, but destined like them to brighten into perfect day.
This objection, that we non-voters shall lose all our influence,
confounds the broad distinction between _influence_ and _power_.
_Influence_ every honest man must and will have, in exact
proportion to his honesty and ability. God always annexes influence
to worth. The world, however unwilling, can never get free from the
influence of such a man. This influence the possession of office
cannot give, nor the want of it take away. For the exercise of such
influence as this, man is responsible. _Power_ we buy of our fellow
men at a certain price. Before making the bargain it is our duty to
see that we do not pay "too dear for our whistle." He who buys it at
the price of truth and honor, buys only weakness--and sins beside.
Of those who go to the utmost verge of honesty in order to reach the
seats of worldly power, and barter a pure conscience for a weighty
name, it may be well said with old Fuller, "They need to have steady
heads who can dive into these gulfs of policy, and come out with a
This withdrawing from government is pharisaical--"Shall we, 'weak,
sinful men,'" one says, "perhaps even more sinful than the
slaveholder, cry out, No Union with Slaveholders?" Such a course is
wanting in brotherly kindness.
ANSWER. Because we refuse to aid a wrong-doer in his sin, we by no
means proclaim, or assume, that we think our _whole character_
better than his. It is neither pharisaical to have opinions, nor
presumptuous to guide our lives by them. If I have joined with
others in doing wrong, is it either presumptuous or unkind, when my
eyes are opened, to refuse to go any further with them in their
career of guilt? Does love to the thief require me to help him in
stealing? Yet this is all we refuse to do. We will extend to the
slaveholder all the courtesy he will allow. If he is hungry, we will
feed him; if he is in want, both hands shall be stretched out for
his aid. We will give him full credit for all the good that he does,
and our deep sympathy in all the temptations under whose strength he
falls. But to help him in his sin, to remain partners with him in
the slave-trade, is more than he has a right to ask. He would be a
strange preacher who should set out to reform his circle by joining
in all their sins! It is a principle similar to that which the tipsy
Duke of Norfolk acted on, when seeing a drunken friend in the gutter,
he cried out, "My dear fellow, I can't help you out, but I'll do
better, I'll lie down by your side."
But consider, the abstaining from all share in Government will leave
bad men to have everything their own way--admit Texas--extend
slavery, &c. &c.
ANSWER. That is no matter of mine. God, the great conservative power
of the Universe, when he established the right, saw to it that it
should always be the safest and best. He never laid upon a poor
finite worm the staggering load of following out into infinity the
complex results of his actions. We may rest on the bosom of
Infinite Wisdom, confident that it is enough for us to do justice,
he will see to it that happiness results.
But the same conscientious objection against promising your support
to government, ought to lead you to avoid actually giving your
support to it by paying taxes or sueing in the courts.
ANSWER. This is what logicians call a _reductio ad absurdum_: an
attempt to prove our principle unsound by showing that, fairly
carried out, it leads to an absurdity. But granting all it asks, it
does not saddle us with any absurdity at all. It is perfectly
possible to live without petitioning, sueing, or holding stocks.
Thousands in this country have lived, died, and been buried, without
doing either. And does it load us with any absurdity to prove that
we shall be obliged to do from principle, what the majority of our
fellow-citizens do from choice? We lawyers may think it is an
absurdity to say a man can't sue, for, like the Apostle at Ephesus,
it touches our "craft," but that don't go far to prove it. Then, as
to taxes, doubtless many cases might be imagined, when every one
would allow it to be our duty to resist the slightest taxation, did
Christianity allow it, with "war to the hilt." If such cases may
ever arise, why may not this be one?
Until I become an Irishman, no one will ever convince me that I
ought to vote, by proving that I ought not to pay taxes! Suppose
all these difficulties do really encompass us, it will not be
the first time that the doing of one moral duty has revealed a
dozen others which we never thought of. The child has climbed the
hill over his native village, which he thought the end of the world,
and lo! there are mountains beyond! He won't remedy the matter by
creeping back to his cradle and disbelieving in mountains!
But then, is there any such inconsistency in non-voters sueing and
Look at it. A. and B. have agreed on certain laws, and appointed C.
to execute them. A. owes me, who am no party to the contract, a just
debt, which his laws oblige him to pay. Do I acknowledge the
rightfulness of his relation to B. and C. by asking C. to use the
power given him, in my behalf? It appears to me that I do not. I may
surely ask A. to pay me my debt--why not then ask the keeper, whom
he has appointed over himself, to make him do so?
I am a prisoner among pirates. The mate is abusing me in some way
contrary to their laws. Do I recognize the rightfulness of the
Captain's authority, by asking him to use the power the mate has
consented to give him, to protect me? It seems to me that I do not
necessarily endorse the means by which a man has acquired money or
power, when I ask him to use either in my behalf.
An alien does not recognize the rightfulness of a government by
living under it. It has always been held that an English subject may
swear allegiance to an usurper and yet not be guilty of treason to
the true king. Because he may innocently acknowledge the king
_de facto_ (the king _in deed_,) without assuming him to be king
_de jure_ (king by _right_.) The distinction itself is as old as
the time of Edward the First. The principle is equally applicable to
suits. It has been universally acted on and allowed. The Catholic,
who shrank from acknowledging the heretical Government of England,
always, I believe, sued in her courts.
Who could convince a common man, that by sueing in Constantinople or
Timbuctoo, he does an act which makes him responsible for the
character of those governments?
Then, as for taxes. It is only our voluntary acts for which we are
responsible. And when did government ever trust tax-paying to the
voluntary good will of its subjects? When it does so, I, for one,
will refuse to pay.
When did any sane man conclude that our Saviour's voluntary payment
of a tax acknowledged the rightfulness of Rome's authority over Judea?
"The States," says Chief Justice Marshall, "have only not to elect
Senators, and this government expires without a struggle."
Every November, then, we _create_ the government anew. Now, what
"instinct" will tell a common-sense man, that the act of a
_sovereign_,--voting--which creates a wicked government, is,
_essentially_ the same as the submission of a
_subject_,--tax-paying,--an act done without our consent. It should
be remembered, that we vote as _sovereigns_,--we pay taxes as
_subjects_. Who supposes that the humble tax-payer of Austria, who
does not, perhaps, know in what name the charter of his bondage runs,
is responsible for the doings of Metternich? And what sane man likens
his position to that of the voting sovereign of the United States?
My innocent acts may, through others' malice, result in evil. In that
case, it will be for my best judgment to determine whether to continue
or cease them. They are not thereby rendered essentially sinful. For
instance, I walk out on Sabbath morning. The priest over the way will
exclaim, "Sabbath-breaker," and the infidel will delude his followers,
by telling them I have no regard for Christianity. Still, it will be
for me to settle which, in present circumstances, is best,--to
remain in, and not be misconstrued, or to go out and bear a
testimony against the superstitious keeping of the day. Different
circumstances will dictate different action on such a point.
I may often be the _occasion_ of evil when I am not responsible for
it. Many innocent acts _occasion_ evil, and in such case all I am
bound to ask myself before doing such _innocent act_, is, "Shall I
occasion, on the whole, more harm or good." There are many cases
where doing a duty even, we shall occasion evil and sin in others.
To save a slaveholder from drowning, when we know he has made a will
freeing his slaves, would put off, perhaps forever, their
emancipation, but of course that is not my fault. This making a man
responsible for all the evil his acts, _incidentally_, without his
will, occasion, reminds me of that principle of Turkish law which
Dr. Clarke mentions, in his travels, and which they call "homicide
by an intermediate cause." The case he relates is this: A young man
in love poisoned himself, because the girl's father refused his
consent to the marriage. The Cadi sentenced the father to pay a fine
of $80, saying "if you had not had a daughter, this young man had
not loved; if he had not loved, he had never been disappointed; if
not disappointed, he would never have taken poison." It was the same
Cadi possibly, who sentenced the island of Samos to pay for the
wrecking of a vessel, on the principle that "if the island had not
been in the way, the vessel would never have been wrecked!"
Then of taxes on imports. Buying and selling, and carrying from
country to country, is good and innocent. But government, if I trade
here, will take occasion to squeeze money out of me. Very well. I
shall deliberate whether I will cease trading, and deprive them of
the opportunity, or go on and use my wealth to reform them. 'Tis a
question of expediency, not of right, which my judgment, not my
conscience, must settle. An act of mine, innocent in itself, and
done from right motives, no after act of another's can make a sin.
To import, is rightful. After-taxation, against my consent, cannot
make it wrong. Neither am I obliged to smuggle, in order to avoid it.
I include in these remarks, all taxes, whether on property, or
imports, or railroads.
A chemist, hundreds of years ago, finds out how to temper steel. The
art is useful for making knives, lancets, and machinery. But he
knows that the bad will abuse it by making swords and daggers. Is he
responsible? Certainly not.
Similar to this is trading in America,--knowing government will thus
have an opportunity to increase its revenue.
But suppose the chemist to see two men fighting, one has the other
down,--to the first our chemist presents a finely tempered dagger.
Such is voting under the United States Constitution--appointing an
officer to help the oppressor.
The difference between voting and tax-paying is simply this: I may do
an act right in itself, though I know some evil will result. Paul was
bound to preach the gospel to the Jews, though he knew some of them
would thereby be led to add to their sins by cursing and mobbing him.
So I may locate property in Philadelphia, trade there, and ride on
its railroads, though I know government will, without my consent,
thereby enrich itself. Other things being equal, of course I shall
not allow it the opportunity. But the advantages and good results of
my doing so, _may be_ such as would make it my duty there to live
and trade, even subject to such an evil.
But on the other hand, I may not do an act wrong in itself to secure
any amount of fancied good.
Now, appointing a man by my vote to a pro-slavery office, (and such
is every one under the United States Constitution,) is wrong in
itself, and no other good deeds which such officer may do, will
justify an abolitionist in so appointing him.
Let it not be said, that this reasoning will apply to voting--that
voting is the right of every human being, (which I grant only for
the sake of argument,) and innocent in itself.
Voting _under our_ Constitution is appointing a man to swear to
protect, and actually to protect slavery. Now, appointing agents
generally is the right of every man, and innocent in itself, but
appointing an agent to commit a murder is sin.
I trade, and government taxes me; do I authorize it? No.
I vote, and the marshal whom my agent appoints, returns a slave to
South Carolina. Do I authorize it? _Yes_. I knew it would be his
_sworn duty_, when I voted; and I assented to it, by voting under
the Constitution which makes it his duty. If I trade, it is said, I
may foresee that government will be helped by the taxes I pay,
therefore I ought not to trade. But I do not trade _for the purpose_
of paying taxes! And if I am to be charged with all the foreseen
results of my actions, then Garrison is responsible for the Boston
The reason why I am responsible for the pro-slavery act of a United
States officer, for whom I have voted, is this: I must be supposed
to have _intended_ that which my agent is _bound_ by his contract
with me (that is, his oath of office) to do.
Allow me to request our opposers to keep distinctly in view the
precise point in debate. This is not whether Massachusetts can
rightfully trade and make treaties with South Carolina, although she
knows that such a course will result in strengthening a wrongdoer.
Such are most of the cases which they consider parallel to ours, and
for permitting which they charge us with inconsistency. But the
question really is, whether Massachusetts can join hands and
strength with South Carolina, for the express and avowed purpose of
sustaining Slavery. This she does in the Constitution. For he who
swears to support an instrument of twelve clauses, swears to support
one as well as another,--and though one only be immoral,--still he
swears to do an immoral act. Now, my conviction is, "which fire will
not burn out of me," that to return fugitive slaves is sin--to
promise so to do, and not do it, is, if possible, baser still; and
that any conjunction of circumstances which makes either necessary,
is of the Devil, and not of God.
Duty requires of a non-voter to quit the country, and go where his
taxes will not help to build up slavery.
ANSWER. God gave me my birth here. Because bad men about me
"play such tricks before high Heaven, as make the angels weep," does
it oblige me to quit? I have as good right here as they. If they
choose to leave, let them--I Shall remain. 'Twould be a pretty thing,
indeed, if, as often as I found myself next door to a bad man, who
would bring up his children to steal my apples and break my windows,
I were obliged to take the temptation away by cutting down all my
apple trees and moving my house further west, into the wilderness.
This would be, in good John Wesley's phrase, "giving up all the good
times to the devil," with a witness.
"Society has the right to prescribe the terms, upon the expressed or
implied agreement to comply with which a person may reside within
ANSWER. This principle I utterly deny. All that Society has a right
to demand is peaceful submission to its exactions:--_consent_ they
have neither the power nor the right to exact or to imply. Twenty
men live on a lone island. Nineteen set up a government and say,
every man who lives there shall worship idols. The twentieth submits
to all their laws, but refuses to commit idolatry. Have they the
_right_ to say, "Do so, or quit;" or, to say, "If you stay, we
will consider you as impliedly worshipping idols?" Doubtless they
have the _power_, but the majority have no _rights_, except those
which justice sanctions. Will the objector show me the justice of
his principle? I was born here. I ask no man's permission to remain.
All that any man or body of men have a right to infer from my
staying here, is that, in doing this _innocent act_, I think, that on
the whole, I am effecting more good than harm. Lawyers say, I cannot
find this right laid down in the books. That will not trouble me.
Some old play has a character in it who never ties his neckcloth
without a warrant from Mr. Justice Overdo. I claim no relationship
to that very scrupulous individual.
These clauses, to which you refer, are inconsistent with the
Preamble of the Constitution, which describes it as made "to
establish justice" and "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves
and our posterity:" And as, when two clauses of the same instrument
are inconsistent, one must yield and be held void--we hold these
three clauses void.
ANSWER. A _specific_ clause is not to be held void on account of
general terms, such as those of the preamble. It is rather to be
taken as an exception, allowed and admitted at the time, to those
Again. You say they are inconsistent. But the Courts and the People
do not think so. Now they, being the majority, settle the law. The
question then is, whether the law being settled,--and according to
your belief settled immorally,--you will _volunteer_ your services
to execute it and carry it into effect? This you do by becoming an
officeholder. It seems to me this question can receive but one
answer from honest men.
LAST OF ALL, THE OBJECTOR CRIES OUT,
The Constitution may be _amended_, and I shall vote to have it
ANSWER. But at present it is necessary to swear to support it
_as it is_. What the Constitution may become, a century hence, we
know not; we speak of it _as it is_, and repudiate it _as it is_.
How long may one promise to do evil, in hope some time or other to
get the power to do good? We will not brand the Constitution of the
United States as pro-slavery, after--it had ceased to be so! This
objection reminds me of Miss Martineau's story of the little boy,
who hurt himself, and sat crying on the sidewalk. "Don't cry!" said
a friend, "it won't hurt you tomorrow."--"Well then," said the child,
"I won't cry tomorrow."
We come then, it seems to me, back to our original conclusion: that
the man who swears to support the Constitution, swears to support
the whole of it, pro-slavery clauses and all,--that he swears to
support it _as it is_, not as it hereafter may become,--that he
swears to support it in the sense given to it by the Courts and the
Nation, not as he chooses to understand it,--and that the Courts and
the Nation expect such an one in office to do his share toward the
suppression of slave, as well as other, insurrections, and to aid
the return of fugitive slaves. After an _abolitionist_ has taken
such an oath, or by his vote sent another to take it for him, I do
not see how he can look his own principles in the face.
Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou lie?
We who call upon the slaveholder to do right, no matter what the
consequences or the cost, are certainly bound to look well to our
own example. At least we can hardly expect to win the master to do
justice by _setting him an example of perjury_. It is almost an
insult in an abolitionist, while not willing to sacrifice even a
petty ballot for his principles, to demand of the slaveholder that
he give up wealth, home, old prejudices and social position at their
EXTRACTS FROM J.Q. ADAMS.
The benefits of the Constitution of the United States, were the
restoration of credit and reputation, to the country--the revival of
commerce, navigation, and ship building--the acquisition of the
means of discharging the debts of the Revolution, and the protection
and encouragement of the infant and drooping manufactures of the
country. All this, however, as is now well ascertained, was
insufficient to propitiate the rulers of the Southern States to
the adoption of the Constitution. What they specially wanted was
_protection_. Protection from the powerful and savage tribes of
Indians within their borders, and who were harassing them with the
most terrible of wars--and protection from their own
negroes--protection from their insurrections--protection from their
escape--protection even to the trade by which they were brought into
this country--protection, shall I not blush to say, protection to
the very bondage by which they were held. Yes! it cannot be
denied--the slaveholding lords of the South prescribed, as a
condition of their assent to the Constitution, three special
provisions to secure the perpetuity of their dominion over their
slaves. The first was the immunity for twenty years of preserving
the African slave-trade; the second was the stipulation to surrender
fugitive slaves--an engagement positively prohibited by the laws of
God, delivered from Sinai; and thirdly, the exaction, fatal to the
principles of popular representation, of a representation for
slaves--for articles of merchandise, under the name of persons.
In outward show, it is a representation of persons in bondage; in
fact, it is a representation of their masters,--the oppressor
representing the oppressed.--Is it in the compass of human
imagination to devise a more perfect exemplification of the art of
committing the lamb to the tender custody of the wolf?--The
representative is thus constituted, not the friend, agent and trustee
of the person whom he represents, but the most inveterate of his foes.
To call government thus constituted a democracy, is to insult the
understanding of mankind. It is doubly tainted with the infection of
riches and of slavery. _There is no name in the language of national
jurisprudence that can define it_--no model in the records of
ancient history, or in the political theories of Aristotle, with
which it can be likened. Here is one class of men, consisting of not
more than one-fortieth part of the whole people, not more than
one-thirtieth part of the free population, exclusively devoted to
their personal interests identified with their own as slaveholders
of the same associated wealth, and wielding by their votes, upon
every question of government or of public policy, two-fifths of the
whole power of the House. In the Senate of the Union, the proportion
of the slaveholding power is yet greater. Its operation upon the
government of the nation is, to establish an artificial majority in
the slave representation over that of the free people, in the
American Congress, and thereby to make the PRESERVATION, PROPAGATION,
AND PERPETUATION OF SLAVERY THE VITAL AND ANIMATING SPIRIT OF THE
NATIONAL GOVERNMENT.--The result is seen in the fact that, at this
day, the President of the United States, the President of the Senate,
the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and five out of nine of
the Judges of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the United States, are
not only citizens of slaveholding States, but individual slaveholders
themselves. So are, and constantly have been, with scarcely an
exception, all the members of both Houses of Congress from the
slaveholding States; and so are, in immensely disproportionate
numbers, the commanding officers of the army and navy; the officers
of the customs; the registers and receivers of the land offices, and
the post-masters throughout the slaveholding States.
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 AND
HOME AND ABROAD, and warping it to the sordid private interest and
oppressive policy of 300,000 owners of slaves.
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
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.
THE ANTI-SLAVERY EXAMINER.
ADDRESS TO THE FRIENDS OF CONSTITUTIONAL LIBERTY,
ON THE VIOLATION BY THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
OF THE RIGHT OF PETITION AT THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
OF THE AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY.
PUBLISHED BY THE AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY,
NO. 143 NASSAU STREET.
This No. contains 1 sheet.--Postage, under 100 miles, 1-1/2 ct.
over 100, 2-1/2 cts. Please Read and circulate.
TO THE FRIENDS OF CONSTITUTIONAL LIBERTY:--
There was a time, fellow citizens, when the above address would have
included the PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES. But, alas! the freedom of
the press, freedom of speech, and the right of petition, are now
hated and dreaded by our Southern citizens, as hostile to the
perpetuity of human bondage; while, by their political influence in
the Federal Government, they have induced numbers at the North to
unite with them in their sacrilegious crusade against these
On the 28th January last, the House of Representatives, on motion of
Mr. Johnson, from Maryland, made it a standing RULE of the House
that "no petition, memorial, resolution, or other paper, praying the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or any State or
Territory of the United States, in which it now exists, SHALL BE
RECEIVED BY THE HOUSE, OR ENTERTAINED IN ANY WAY WHATEVER."
Thus has the RIGHT OF PETITION been immolated in the very Temple of
Liberty, and offered up, a propitiatory sacrifice to the demon of
slavery. Never before has an outrage so unblushingly profligate been
perpetrated upon the Federal Constitution. Yet, while we mourn the
degeneracy which this transaction evinces, we behold, in its
attending circumstances, joyful omens of the triumph which awaits
our struggle with the hateful power that now perverts the General
Government into an engine of cruelty and loathsome oppression.
Before we congratulate you on these omens, let us recall to your
recollection the steps by which the enemies of human rights have
advanced to their present rash and insolent defiance of moral and
In 1831, a newspaper was established in Boston, for the purpose of
disseminating facts and arguments in favor of the duty and policy of
immediate emancipation. The Legislature of Georgia, with all the
recklessness of despotism, passed a law, offering a reward of $5000,
for the abduction of the Editor, and his delivery in Georgia. As
there was no law, by which a citizen of Massachusetts could be tried
in Georgia, for expressing his opinions in the capital of his own
State, this reward was intended as the price of BLOOD. Do you start
at the suggestion? Remember the several sums of $25,000, of $50,000,
and of $100,000, offered in Southern papers for kidnapping certain
abolitionists. Remember the horrible inflictions by Southern Lynch
clubs. Remember the declaration, in the United States Senate, by the
brazen-fronted Preston, that, should an abolitionist be caught in
Carolina, he would be HANGED. But, as the Slaveholders could not
destroy the lives of the Abolitionists, they determined to murder
their characters. Hence, the President of the United States was
induced, in his Message of 1835, to Congress, to charge them with
plotting the massacre of the Southern planters; and even to stultify
himself, by affirming that, for this purpose, they were engaged in
sending, by _mail_, inflammatory appeals to the _slaves_--sending
papers to men who could not read them, and by a conveyance through
which they could not receive them! He well knew that the papers
alluded to were appeals on the immorality of converting men, women,
and children, into beasts of burden, and were sent to the masters,
for _their_ consideration. The masters in Charleston, dreading the
moral influence of these appeals on the conscience of the
slaveholding community, forced the Post Office, and made a bonfire
of the papers. The Post Master General, with the sanction of the
President, also hastened to their relief, and, in violation of oaths,
and laws, and the constitution, established ten thousand censors of
the press, each one of whom was authorized to abstract from the mail
every paper which _he_ might think too favorable to the rights of man.
For more than twenty years, petitions have been presented to Congress,
for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The right
to present them, and the power of Congress to grant their prayer,
were, until recently, unquestioned. But the rapid multiplication of
these petitions alarmed the slaveholders, and, knowing that they
tended to keep alive at the North, an interest in the slave, they
deemed it good policy to discourage and, if possible, suppress all
such applications. Hence Mr. Pinckney's famous resolution, in 1836,
declaring, "that all petitions, or papers, relating _in any way, or
to any extent_ whatever to the _subject of slavery_, shall, without
being printed or referred, be laid on the table; and no further
action, whatever shall be had thereon!"
The peculiar atrocity of this resolution was, that it not merely
trampled upon the rights of the petitioners, but took from each
member of the House his undoubted privilege, as a legislator of the
District, to introduce any proposition he might think proper, for the
protection of the slaves. In every Slave State there are laws
affording, at least, some nominal protection to these unhappy beings;
but, according to this resolution, slaves might be flayed alive in
the streets of Washington, and no representative of the people could
offer even a resolution for inquiry. And this vile outrage upon
constitutional liberty was avowedly perpetrated "to repress agitation,
to allay excitement, and re-establish harmony and tranquillity among
the various sections of the Union!!"
But this strange opiate did not produce the stupefying effects
anticipated from it. In 1836, the petitioners were only 37,000--the
next session they numbered 110,000. Mr. Hawes, of Ky., now essayed
to restore tranquillity, by gagging the uneasy multitude; but, alas!
at the next Congress, more than 300,000 petitioners carried new
terror to the hearts of the slaveholders. The next anodyne was
prescribed by Mr. Patton, of Va., but its effect was to rouse from
their stupor some of the Northern Legislatures, and to induce them
to denounce his remedy as "a usurpation of power, a violation of the
Constitution, subversive of the fundamental principles of the
government, and at war with the prerogatives of the people." It
was now supposed that the people most be drugged by a _northern_ man,
and _Atherton_ was found a fit instrument for this vile purpose; but
the dose proved only the more nauseous and exciting from the foul
hands by which it was administered.
[Footnote 105: Resolutions of Massachusetts and Connecticut, April and
In these various outrages, although all action on the petitions was
prohibited, the papers themselves were received and laid on the table,
and _therefore_ it was contended, that the right of petition had
been preserved inviolate. But the slaveholders, maddened by the
failure of all their devices, and fearing the influence which the
mere sight of thousands and tens of thousands of petitions in behalf
of liberty, would exert, and, taking advantage of the approaching
presidential election to operate upon the selfishness of some
northern members, have succeeded in crushing the right of petition
That you may be the more sensible, fellow citizens, of the exceeding
profligacy of the late RULE and of its palpable violation of both the
spirit and the letter of the Constitution, which those who voted for
it had sworn to support, suffer us to recall to your recollection a
few historical facts.
The framers of the Federal Constitution supposed the right of
petition too firmly established in the habits and affections of the
people, to need a constitutional guarantee. Their omission to notice
it, roused the jealousy of some of the State conventions, called to
pass upon the constitution. The _Virginia_ convention proposed,
as an amendment, "that every _freeman_ has a right to petition,
or apply to the Legislature, for a redress of grievances." And this
amendment, with others, was ordered to be forwarded to the different
States, for their consideration. The Conventions of North Carolina,
New York, and Rhode Island, were held subsequently, and, of course,
had before them the Virginia amendment. The North Carolina Convention
adopted a declaration of rights, embracing the very words of the
proposed amendment; and this declaration was ordered to be submitted
to Congress, before that State would enter the Union. The Conventions
of New York and of Rhode Island incorporated in their _certificates
of ratification_, the assertion that "Every _person_ has a right to
petition or apply to the legislature for a redress of
grievances"--using the Virginia phraseology, merely substituting the
word _person_ for _freeman_, thus claiming the right of petition even
for slaves; while Virginia and North Carolina confined it to freemen.
The first Congress, assembled under the Constitution, gave effect to
the wishes thus emphatically expressed, by proposing, as an amendment,
that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or _abridging_
the freedom of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and _to petition Government_ for a redress of grievances."
This amendment was duly ratified by the States, and when members of
Congress swear to support the Constitution of the United States,
they are as much bound by their oath to refrain from abridging the
right of petition, as they are to fulfil any other constitutional
obligation. And will the slaveholders and their abettors, dare to
maintain that they have not foresworn themselves, because they have
abridged the right of the people to petition for a redress of
grievances, by a RULE of the House, and not by a _law_? If so, they
may by a RULE require every member, on taking his seat, to subscribe
the creed of a particular church, and then call their Maker to
witness that they are guiltless of making a _law_ "respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The right to petition is one thing, and the disposition of a petition
after it is received, is another. But the new rule makes no
disposition of the petitions; it PROHIBITS THEIR RECEPTION; they may
not be brought into the legislative chamber. Hundreds of thousands
of the people are debarred all access to their representatives, for
the purpose of offering them a prayer.
It is said that the manifold abominations perpetrated in the District
are no grievances to the petitioners, and _therefore_ they have no
right to ask for their removal. But the right guaranteed by the
Constitution, is a right to ask for the redress of _grievances_,
whether personal, social, or moral. And who, except a slaveholder,
will dare to contend that it is no grievance that our agents, our
representatives, our servants, in our name and by our authority,
enact laws erecting and licensing markets in the Capital of the
Republic, for the sale of human beings, and converting free men into
slaves, for no other crime, than that of being too poor to pay
United States' officers the JAIL FEES accruing from an iniquitous
Again, it is pretended that the objects prayed for, are palpably
unconstitutional, and that _therefore_ the petitions ought not to be
received. And by what authority are the people deprived of their
right to petition for any object which a majority of either
House of Congress, for the time being, may please to regard as
unconstitutional? If this usurpation be submitted to, it will not be
confined to abolition petitions. It is well known that most of the
slaveholders _now_ insist, that all protecting duties are
unconstitutional, and that on account of the tariff the Union was
nearly rent by the very men who are now horrified by the danger to
which it is exposed by these _petitions_! Should our Northern
Manufacturers again presume to ask Congress to protect them from
foreign competition, the Southern members will find a precedent,
sanctioned by Northern votes, for a rule that "no petition, memorial,
resolution, or other paper, praying for the IMPOSITION OF DUTIES FOR
THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF MANUFACTURES, shall be received by the House,
or entertained in any way whatever."
It does indeed, require Southern arrogance, to maintain that,
although Congress is invested by the Constitution with "exclusive
jurisdiction, in all cases whatsoever," over the District of Columbia,
yet that it would be so palpably unconstitutional to abolish the
slave-trade, and to emancipate the slaves in the District, that
petitions for these objects ought not to be received. Yet this is
asserted in that very House, on whose minutes is recorded a
resolution, in 1816, appointing a committee, with power to send for
persons and papers, "to inquire into the existence of an inhuman and
illegal traffic in slaves, carried on, in and through the District
of Columbia, and report whether any, and what means are necessary
for putting a stop to the same:" and another, in 1829, instructing
the Committee on the District of Columbia to inquire into the
expediency of providing by law, "for the gradual abolition of
slavery in the District."
In the very first Congress assembled under the Federal Constitution,
petitions were presented, asking its interposition for the
mitigation of the evils, and final abolition of the African
slave-trade, and also praying it, as far as it possessed the power,
to take measures for the abolition of slavery. These petitions
excited the wrath and indignation of many of the slave-holding
members, yet no one thought of refusing to receive them. They were
referred to a select committee, at the instance of Mr. Madison,
himself, who "entered into a critical review of the circumstances
respecting the adoption of the Constitution, and the ideas upon the
limitation of the powers of Congress to interfere in the regulation
of the commerce of slaves, and showed that they undoubtedly were not
precluded from interposing in their importation; and generally to
regulate the mode in which every species of business shall be
transacted. He adverted to the western country, and the Cession of
Georgia, in which Congress have certainly the power to _regulate the
subject of slavery_; which shows that gentlemen are mistaken in
supposing, that Congress cannot constitutionally interfere in the
business, in any degree, whatever. He was in favor of committing the
petition, and justified the measure by repeated precedents in the
proceedings of the House."--_U.S. Gazette, 17th Feb._, 1790.
Here we find one of the earliest and ablest expounders of the
Constitution, maintaining the power of Congress to "regulate the
subject of slavery" in the national territories, and urging the
reference of abolition petitions to a special committee.
The committee made a report; for which, after a long debate, was
substituted a declaration, by the House, that Congress could not
abolish the slave trade prior to the year 1808, but had a right so
to regulate it as to provide for the humane treatment of the slaves
on the passage; and that Congress could not interfere in the
emancipation or treatment of slaves in the _States_.
This declaration gave entire satisfaction, and no farther abolition
petitions were presented, till after the District of Columbia had
been placed under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of the General
You all remember, fellow citizens, the wide-spread excitement which
a few years since prevailed on the subject of SUNDAY MAILS. Instead
of attempting to quiet the agitation, by outraging the rights of the
petitioners, Congress referred the petitions to a committee, and
made no attempt to stifle discussion.
Why, then, we ask, with such authorities and precedents before them,
do the slaveholders in Congress, regardless of their oaths, strive to
gag the friends of freedom, under _pretence_ of allaying agitation?
Because conscience does make cowards of them all--because they know
the accursed system they are upholding will not bear the
light--because they fear, if these petitions are discussed, the
abominations of the American slave trade, the secrets of the
prison-houses in Washington and Alexandria, and the horrors of the
human shambles licensed by the authority of Congress, will be
exposed to the score and indignation of the civilized world.
Unquestionably the late RULE surpasses, in its profligate contempt of
constitutional obligation, any act in the annals of the Federal
Government. As such it might well strike every patriot with dismay,
were it not that attending circumstances teach us that it is the
expiring effort of desperation. When we reflect on the past
subserviency of our northern representatives to the mandates of the
slaveholders, we may well raise, on the present occasion, the shout
of triumph, and hail the vote on the recent RULE as the pledge of a
glorious victory. Suffer us to recall to your recollection the
majorities by which the successive attempts to crush the right of
petition and the freedom of debate have been carried.
Pinckney's Gag was passed May, 1836, by a majority of 51
Hawes's Jan. 1837, 58
Patton's Dec. 1837, 48
Atherton's Dec. 1838, 48
JOHNSON's Jan. 1840, 6
Surely, when we find the majority against us reduced from 58 to
6, we need no new incentive to perseverance.
Another circumstance which marks the progress of constitutional
liberty, is the gradual diminution in the number of our northern
_serviles_. The votes from the free States in favor of the several
gags were as follows:--
For Pinckney's 62
For Hawes's 70
For Patton's 52
For Atherton's 49
For JOHNSON's 28
There is also another cheering fact connected with the passage of
the RULE which deserves to be noticed. Heretofore the slaveholders
have uniformly, by enforcing the previous question, imposed their
several gags by a silent vote. On the present occasion they were
twice baffled in their efforts to stifle debate, and were, for days
together, compelled to listen to speeches on a subject which they
have so often declared should not be discussed.
A base strife for southern votes has hitherto, to no small extent,
enlisted both the political parties at the north in the service of
the slaveholders. The late unwonted independence of northern
politicians, and the deference paid by them to the wishes of their
own constituents, in preference to those of their southern colleagues,
indicates the advance of public opinion. No less than 49 northern
members of the administration party voted for the Atherton gag,
while only 27 dared to record their names in favor of Johnson's; and
of the representation of SIX States, _every vote_ was given _against_
the rule, without distinction of party. The tone in which opposite
political journals denounce the late outrage may warn the
slaveholders that they will not much longer hold the north in bonds.
The leading administration paper in the city of New York regards the
RULE with "utter abhorrence;" while the official paper of the
opposition, edited by the state printer, trusts that the names of
the recreant northerners who voted for it may be "handed down to
eternal infamy and execration."
The advocates of abolition are no longer consigned to unmitigated
contempt and obloquy. Passing by the various living illustrations of
our remark, we appeal for our proofs to the dead. The late WILLIAM
LEGGETT, the editor of a Democratic Journal in the city of New York,
was denounced, in 1835, by the "Democratic Republican General
Committee," for his abolition doctrines. Far from faltering in his
course, on account of the censure of his own party, he exclaimed,
with a presentiment almost amounting to prophecy, "The stream of
public opinion now sets against us, but it is about to turn, and the
regurgitation will be tremendous. Proud in that day may well be the
man who can float in triumph on the first refluent wave, swept
onward by the deluge which he himself, in advance of his fellows,
had largely shared in occasioning. Such be my fate; and, living or
dying, it will in some measure be mine. I have written my name in
ineffaceable letters on the abolition record." And he did live to
behold the first swelling of the refluent wave. The denounced
abolitionist was honored by a democratic President with a diplomatic
mission; and since his death, the resolution condemning him has been
EXPUNGED from the minutes of the democratic committee.
Of the many victims of the recent awful calamity in our waters, what
name has been most frequently uttered by the pulpit and the press in
the accents of lamentation and panegyric? On whose tomb have freedom,
philanthropy, and letters been invoked to strew their funeral wreaths?
All who have heard of the loss of the Lexington are familiar with
the name of CHARLES FOLLEN. And who was he? One of the men
officially denounced by President Jackson as a gang of miscreants,
plotting insurrection and murder--and, recently, a member of the
Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
Let us then, fellow citizens, in view of all these things, thank God
and take courage. We are now contending, not merely for the
emancipation of our unhappy fellow men, kept in bondage under the
authority of our own representatives--not merely for the overthrow
of the human shambles erected by Congress on the national
domain--but also for the preservation of those great constitutional
rights which were acquired by our fathers, and are now assailed by
the slaveholders and their northern auxiliaries. That you may
remember these auxiliaries and avoid giving them new opportunities
of betraying your rights, we annex a list of their dishonored names.
The following twenty-eight members from the Free States voted in the
affirmative on the recent GAG RULE.
Virgil D. Parris
Charles G. Atherton
Ira A. Eastman
Nehemiah H. Earle
James de la Montayne
John H. Prentiss
Theron R. Strong
William S. Ramsey
John B. Weller
George H. Proffit
Let us turn to our more immediate representatives, and we trust more
faithful servants. Our State Legislatures will not refuse to hear
our prayers. Let us petition them immediately to rebuke the treason
by which the Constitution has been surrendered into the hands of the
slaveholders--let us implore them to demand from Congress, in the
name of the free States, that they shall neither destroy nor abridge
the right of petition--a right without which our government would be
converted into a despotism.
We call on you, fellow citizens of every religious faith and party
name, to unite with us in guarding the citadel of our country's
freedom. If there are any who will not co-operate with us in
laboring for the emancipation of the slave, surely there are none
who will stand aloof from us while contending for the liberty of
themselves, their children, and their children's children.
To the rescue, then, fellow citizens! and, trusting in HIM without
whom all human effort is weakness, let us not doubt that our faithful
endeavors to preserve the rights HE has given us will, through HIS
blessing, be crowned with success.
JAMES G. BIRNEY,
SAMUEL E. CORNISH,
SIMEON S. JOCELYN,
LA ROY SUNDERLAND,
THEODORE S. WRIGHT,
JAMES S. GIBBONS,
HENRY B. STANTON
_New York, February_ 13, 1840.