The Anti-Slavery Examiner, Part 2 of 4 by American Anti-Slavery Society

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  • 1838
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BY The American Anti-Slavery Society








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NO. 5


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This No. contains 3-1/2 sheets.–Postage, under 100 miles, 6 cts. over 100, 10 cts.


A civilized community presupposes a government of law. If that government be a republic, its citizens are the sole _sources_, as well as the _subjects_ of its power. Its constitution is their bill of directions to their own agents–a grant authorizing the exercise of certain powers, and prohibiting that of others. In the Constitution of the United States, whatever else may be obscure, the clause granting power to Congress over the Federal District may well defy misconstruction. Art. 1, Sec. 8, Clause 18: “The Congress shall have power to exercise exclusive legislation, _in all cases whatsoever_, over such District.” Congress may make laws for the District “in all _cases_,” not of all _kinds_. The grant respects the _subjects_ of legislation, _not_ the moral nature of the laws. The law-making power every where, is subject to _moral_ restrictions, whether limited by constitutions or not. No legislature can authorize murder, nor make honesty penal, nor virtue a crime, nor exact impossibilities. In these and similar respects, the power of Congress is held in check by principles existing in the nature of things, not imposed by the Constitution, but presupposed and assumed by it. The power of Congress over the District is restricted only by those principles that limit ordinary legislation, and, in some respects, it has even wider scope.

In common with the legislatures of the States, Congress cannot constitutionally pass ex post facto laws in criminal cases, nor suspend the writ of habeas corpus, nor pass a bill of attainder, nor abridge the freedom of speech and of the press, nor invade the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, nor enact laws respecting an establishment of religion. These are general limitations. Congress cannot do these things _any where_. The exact import, therefore, of the clause “in all cases whatsoever,” is, _on all subjects within the appropriate sphere of legislation_. Some legislatures are restrained by constitutions from the exercise of powers strictly within the proper sphere of legislation. Congressional power over the District has no such restraint. It traverses the whole field of legitimate legislation. All the power which any legislature has within its own jurisdiction, Congress holds over the District of Columbia.

It has been asserted that the clause in question respects merely police regulations, and that its sole design was to enable Congress to protect itself against popular tumults. But if the framers of the Constitution aimed to provide for a _single_ case only, why did they provide for “_all_ cases whatsoever?” Besides, this clause was opposed in many of the state conventions, because the grant of power was not restricted to police regulations _alone_. In the Virginia Convention, George Mason, the father of the Virginia Constitution, said, “This clause gives an unlimited authority in every possible case within the District. He would willingly give them exclusive power as far as respected the police and good government of the place, but he would give them no more.” Mr. Grayson said, that control over the _police_ was all-sufficient, and that the “Continental Congress never had an idea of exclusive legislation in all cases.” Patrick Henry said. “Is it consistent with any principle of prudence or good policy, to grant _unlimited, unbounded authority?_” Mr. Madison said in reply: “I did conceive that the clause under consideration was one of those parts which would speak its own praise. When any power is given, its delegation necessarily involves authority to make laws to execute it. * * * * The powers which are found necessary to be given, are therefore delegated _generally_, and particular and minute specification is left to the legislature. * * * It is not within the limits of human capacity to delineate on paper all those particular cases and circumstances, in which legislation by the general legislature would be necessary.” Governor Randolph said: “Holland has no ten miles square, but she has the Hague where the deputies of the States assemble. But the influence which it has given the province of Holland, to have the seat of government within its territory, subject in some respects to its control, has been injurious to the other provinces. The wisdom of the Convention is therefore manifest in granting to Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the place of their session.” [_Deb. Va. Con._, p. 320.] In the forty-third number of the “Federalist,” Mr. Madison says: “The indispensable necessity of _complete_ authority at the seat of government, carries its own evidence with it.”

Finally, that the grant in question is to be interpreted according to the obvious import of its _terms_, is proved by the fact, that Virginia proposed an amendment to the United States’ Constitution at the time of its adoption, providing that this clause “should be so construed as to give power only over the _police and good government_ of said District,” _which amendment was rejected_.

The former part of the clause under consideration, “Congress shall have power to exercise _exclusive_ legislation,” gives _sole_ jurisdiction, and the latter part, “in all cases whatsoever,” defines the _extent_ of it. Since, then, Congress is the _sole_ legislature within the District, and since its power is limited only by the checks common to all legislatures, it follows that what the law-making power is intrinsically competent to do _any_ where, Congress is competent to do in the District of Columbia. Having disposed of preliminaries, we proceed to state and argue the _real_ question at issue.


1. In every government, absolute sovereignty exists _somewhere_. In the United States it exists primarily with the _people_, and _ultimate_ sovereignty _always_ exists with them. In each of the States, the legislature possesses a _representative_ sovereignty, delegated by the people through the Constitution–the people thus committing to the legislature a portion of their sovereignty, and specifying in their constitutions the amount of the grant and its conditions. That the _people_ in any state where slavery exists, have the power to abolish it, none will deny. If the legislature have not the power, it is because _the people_ have reserved it to themselves. Had they lodged with the legislature “power to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever,” they would have parted with their sovereignty over the legislation of the State, and so far forth, the legislature would have become _the people_, clothed with all their functions, and as such competent, _during the continuance of the grant_, to do whatever the people might have done before the surrender of their power: consequently, they would have the power to abolish slavery. The sovereignty of the District of Columbia exists _somewhere_–where is it lodged? The citizens of the District have no legislature of their own, no representation in Congress, and no political power whatever. Maryland and Virginia have surrendered to the United States their “full and absolute right and entire sovereignty,” and the people of the United States have committed to Congress by the Constitution, the power to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District.”

Thus, the sovereignty of the District of Columbia, is shown to reside solely in the Congress of the United States; and since the power of the people of a state to abolish slavery within their own limits, results from their entire sovereignty within that state, so the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District, results from its entire sovereignty within the District. If it be objected that Congress can have no more power over the District, than was held by the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia, we ask what clause of the constitution graduates the power of Congress by the standard of those legislatures? Was the United States’ constitution worked into its present shape under the measuring line and square of Virginia and Maryland? and is its power to be bevelled down till it can run in the grooves of state legislation? There is a deal of prating about constitutional power over the District, as though Congress were indebted for it to Maryland and Virginia. The powers of those states, whether prodigies or nullities, have nothing to do with the question. As well thrust in the powers of the Grand Lama to join issue upon, or twist papal bulls into constitutional tether, with which to curb congressional action. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES gives power to Congress, and takes it away, and _it alone_. Maryland and Virginia adopted the Constitution _before_ they ceded to the United States the territory of the District. By their acts of cession, they abdicated their own sovereignty over the District, and thus made room for that provided by the United States’ constitution, which sovereignty was to commence as soon as a cession of territory by states, and its acceptance by Congress, furnished a sphere for its exercise. That the abolition of slavery is within the sphere of legislation, I argue.

2. FROM THE FACT, THAT SLAVERY, AS A LEGAL SYSTEM, IS THE CREATURE OF LEGISLATION. The law, by _creating_ slavery, not only affirmed its _existence_ to be within the sphere and under the control of legislation, but also, the conditions and terms of its existence, and the _question_ whether or not it should exist. Of course legislation would not travel _out_ of its sphere, in abolishing what is _within_ it, and what had been recognized to be within it, by its own act. Cannot legislatures repeal their own laws? If law can take from a man his rights, it can give them back again. If it can say, “your body belongs to your neighbor,” it can say, “it belongs to _yourself_.” If it can annul a man’s right to himself, held by express grant from his Maker, and can create for another an _artificial_ title to him, can it not annul the artificial title, and leave the original owner to hold himself by his original title?

3. THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY HAS ALWAYS BEEN CONSIDERED WITHIN THE APPROPRIATE SPHERE OF LEGISLATION. Almost every civilized nation has abolished slavery by law. The history of legislation since the revival of letters, is a record crowded with testimony to the universally admitted competency of the law-making power to abolish slavery. It is so manifestly an attribute not merely of absolute sovereignty, but even of ordinary legislation, that the competency of a legislature to exercise it, may well nigh be reckoned among the legal axioms of the civilized world. Even the night of the dark ages was not dark enough to make this invisible.

The Abolition decree of the great council of England was passed in 1102. The memorable Irish decree, “that all the English slaves in the whole of Ireland, be immediately emancipated and restored to their former liberty,” was issued in 1171. Slavery in England was abolished by a general charter of emancipation in 1381. Passing over many instances of the abolition of slavery by law, both during the middle ages and since the reformation, we find them multiplying as we approach our own times. In 1776 slavery was abolished in Prussia by special edict. In St. Domingo, Cayenne, Guadaloupe, and Martinique, in 1794, where more than 600,000 slaves were emancipated by the French government. In Java, 1811; in Ceylon, 1815; in Buenos Ayres, 1816; in St. Helena, 1819; in Colombia, 1821; by the Congress of Chili in 1821; in Cape Colony, 1823; in Malacca, 1825; in the southern provinces of Birmah, 1826; in Bolivia, 1826; in Peru, Guatemala, and Monte Video, 1828; in Jamaica, Barbados, the Bermudas, the Bahamas, Anguilla, Mauritius, St. Christopers, Nevis, the Virgin Islands, (British), Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, St. Vincents, Grenada, Berbice, Tobago, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Honduras, Demerara, Essequibo and the Cape of Good Hope, on the 1st of August, 1834. But waving details, suffice it to say, that England, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Russia, Austria, Prussia, and Germany, have all and often given their testimony to the competency of the legislative power to abolish slavery. In our own country, the Legislature of Pennsylvania passed an act of abolition in 1780, Connecticut in 1784; Rhode Island, 1784; New-York, 1799; New-Jersey, in 1804; Vermont, by Constitution, in 1777; Massachusetts, in 1780; and New-Hampshire, in 1784.

When the competency of the law-making power to abolish slavery has thus been recognized every where and for ages, when it has been embodied in the highest precedents, and celebrated in the thousand jubilees of regenerated liberty, is it an achievement of modern discovery, that such a power is a nullity?–that all these acts of abolition are void, and that the millions disenthralled by them, are, either themselves or their posterity, still legally in bondage?

4. LEGISLATIVE POWER HAS ABOLISHED SLAVERS IN ITS PARTS. The law of South Carolina prohibits the working of slaves more than fifteen hours in the twenty-four. In other words, it takes from the slaveholder his power over nine hours of the slave’s time daily; and if it can take nine hours it may take twenty-four. The laws of Georgia prohibit the working of slaves on the first day of the week; and if they can do it for the first, they can for the six following. The law of North Carolina prohibits the “immoderate” correction of slaves. If it has power to prohibit _immoderate_ correction, it can prohibit _moderate_ correction–_all_ correction, which would be virtual emancipation; for, take from the master the power to inflict pain, and he is master no longer. Cease to ply the slave with the stimulus of fear, and he is free.

The Constitution of Mississippi gives the General Assembly power to make laws “to oblige the owners of slaves to _treat them with humanity_.” The Constitution of Missouri has the same clause, and an additional one making it the DUTY of the legislature to pass such laws as may be necessary to secure the _humane_ treatment of the slaves. This grant to those legislatures, empowers them to decide what _is_ and what is _not_ “humane treatment.” Otherwise it gives no “power”–the clause is mere waste paper, and flouts in the face of a befooled legislature. A clause giving power to require “humane treatment” covers all the _particulars_ of such treatment–gives power to exact it in _all respects–requiring_ certain acts, and _prohibiting_ others–maiming, branding, chaining together, separating families, floggings for learning the alphabet, for reading the Bible, for worshiping God according to conscience–the legislature has power to specify each of these acts–declare that it is not “_humane_ treatment,” and PROHIBIT it.–The legislature may also believe that driving men and women into the field, and forcing them to work without pay, is not “humane treatment,” and being constitutionally bound “to _oblige_” masters to practise “humane treatment”–they have the _power_ to _prohibit such_ treatment, and are bound to do it.

The law of Louisiana makes slaves real estate, prohibiting the holder, if he be also a _land_ holder, to separate them from the soil.[A] If it has power to prohibit the sale _without_ the soil, it can prohibit the sale _with_ it; and if it can prohibit the _sale_ as property, it can prohibit the _holding_ as property. Similar laws exist in the French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies. The law of Louisiana requires the master to give his slaves a certain amount of food and clothing. If it can oblige the master to give the slave _one_ thing, it can oblige him to give him another: if food and clothing, then wages, liberty, his own body. By the laws of Connecticut, slaves may receive and hold property, and prosecute suits in their own name as plaintiffs: [This last was also the law of Virginia in 1795. See Tucker’s “Dissertation on Slavery,” p. 73.] There were also laws making marriage contracts legal, in certain contingencies, and punishing infringements of them, [“_Reeve’s Law of Baron and Femme_,” p. 340-1.]

[Footnote A: Virginia made slaves real estate by a law passed in 1705. (_Beverly’s Hist. of Va._, p. 98.) I do not find the precise time when this law was repealed, probably when Virginia became the chief slave breeder for the cotton-growing and sugar-planting country, and made young men and women “from fifteen to twenty-five” the main staple production of the State.]

Each of the laws enumerated above, does, _in principle_, abolish slavery; and all of them together abolish it _in fact_. True, not as a _whole_, and at a _stroke_, nor all in one place; but in its _parts_, by piecemeal, at divers times and places; thus showing that the abolition of slavery is within the boundary of legislation.

In the “Washington (D.C.) City Laws,” page 138, is “AN ACT to prevent horses from being cruelly beaten or abused.” Similar laws have been passed by corporations in many of the slave states, and throughout the civilized world, such acts are punishable either as violations of common law or of legislative enactments. If a legislature can pass laws “to prevent _horses_ from being cruelly abused,” it can pass laws to prevent _men_ from being cruelly abused, and if it can _prevent_ cruel abuse, it can define _what it is_. It can declare that to make men _work without pay_ is cruel abuse, and can PROHIBIT it.

5. THE COMPETENCY OF THE LAW-MAKING POWER TO ABOLISH SLAVERY, HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED BY ALL THE SLAVEHOLDING STATES, EITHER DIRECTLY OR BY IMPLICATION. Some States recognize it in their _Constitutions_, by giving the legislature power to emancipate such slaves as may “have rendered the state some distinguished service,” and others by express prohibitory restrictions. The Constitution of Mississippi, Arkansas, and other States, restrict the power of the legislature in this respect. Why this express prohibition, if the law-making power _cannot_ abolish slavery? A stately farce indeed, with appropriate rites to induct into the Constitution a special clause, for the express purpose of restricting a nonentity!–to take from the law-making power what it _never had_, and what _cannot_ pertain to it! The legislatures of those States have no power to abolish slavery, simply because their Constitutions have expressly _taken away_ that power. The people of Arkansas, Mississippi, &c. well knew the competency of the law-making power to abolish slavery, and hence their zeal to _restrict_ it.

The slaveholding States have recognised this power in their _laws_. Virginia passed a law in 1786 to prevent the importation of Slaves, of which the following is an extract: “And be it further enacted that every slave imported into this commonwealth contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, shall upon such importation become _free_.” By a law of Virginia, passed Dec. 17, 1792, a slave brought into the state and kept _there a year_, was _free_. The Maryland Court of Appeals, Dec., 1813 [case of Stewart vs. Oakes,] decided that a slave owned in Maryland, and sent by his master into Virginia to work at different periods, making one year in the whole, became _free_, being _emancipated_ by the above law. North Carolina and Georgia in their acts of cession, transferring to the United States the territory now constituting the States of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, made it a condition of the grant, that the provisions of the ordinance of ’87 should be secured to the inhabitants, _with the exception of the sixth article which prohibits slavery_; thus conceding, both the competency of law to abolish slavery, and the power of Congress to do it, within its jurisdiction. (These acts show the prevalent belief at that time, in the slaveholding States, that the general government had adopted a line of policy aiming at the exclusion of slavery from the entire territory of the United States, not included within the original States, and that this policy would be pursued unless prevented by specific and formal stipulation.)

Slaveholding States have asserted this power _in their judicial decisions_. In numerous cases their highest courts have decided that if the legal owner of slaves takes them into those States where slavery has been abolished either by law or by the constitution, such removal emancipates them, such law or constitution abolishing their slavery. This principle is asserted in the decision of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Lunsford vs. Coquillon, 14 Martin’s La. Reps. 401. Also by the Supreme Court of Virginia, Hunter vs. Fulcher, 1 Leigh’s Reps. 172. The same doctrine was laid down by Judge Washington, of the U. S. Sup. Court, Butler vs. Hopper, Washington’s C. C. Reps. 508; also, by the Court of Appeals in Kentucky, Rankin vs. Lydia, 2 Marshall’s Reps. 407; see also, Wilson vs. Isbell, 5 Call’s Reps. 425, Spotts vs. Gillespie, 6 Randolph’s Reps. 566. The State vs. Lasselle, 1 Blackford’s Reps. 60, Marie Louise vs. Mariot, 8 La. Reps. 475. In this case, which was tried in 1836, the slave had been taken by her master to France and brought back; Judge Matthews, of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, decided that “residence for one moment” under the laws of France emancipated her.

6. EMINENT STATESMEN, THEMSELVES SLAVEHOLDERS, HAVE CONCEDED THIS POWER. Washington, in a letter to Robert Morris, April 12, 1786, says: “There is not a man living, who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by _legislative_ authority.” In a letter to Lafayette, May 10, 1786, he says: “It (the abolition of slavery) certainly might, and assuredly ought to be effected, and that too by _legislative_ authority.” In a letter to John Fenton Mercer, Sept. 9, 1786, he says: “It is among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by _law_.” In a letter to Sir John Sinclair, he says: “There are in Pennsylvania, _laws_ for the gradual abolition of slavery, which neither Maryland nor Virginia have at present, but which nothing is more certain than that they _must have_, and at a period not remote.” Jefferson, speaking of movements in the Virginia Legislature in 1777, for the passage of a law emancipating the slaves, says: “The principles of the amendment were agreed on, that is to say, the freedom of all born after a certain day; but it was found that the public mind would not bear the proposition, yet the day is not far distant when _it must bear and adopt it_.”–Jefferson’s Memoirs, v. i. p. 35. It is well known that Jefferson, Pendleton, Mason, Wythe and Lee, while acting as a committee of the Virginia House of Delegates to revise the State Laws, prepared a plan for the gradual emancipation of the slaves by law. These men were the great lights of Virginia. Mason, the author of the Virginia Constitution; Pendleton, the President of the memorable Virginia Convention in 1787, and President of the Virginia Court of Appeals; Wythe was the Blackstone of the Virginia bench, for a quarter of a century Chancellor of the State, the professor of law in the University of William and Mary, and the preceptor of Jefferson, Madison, and Chief Justice Marshall. He was the author of the celebrated remonstrance to the English House of Commons on the subject of the stamp act. As to Jefferson, his _name_ is his biography.

Every slaveholding member of Congress from the States of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, voted for the celebrated ordinance of 1787, which abolished the slavery then existing in the Northwest Territory. Patrick Henry, in his well known letter to Robert Pleasants, of Virginia, January 18, 1773, says: “I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil.” William Pinkney, of Maryland, advocated the abolition of slavery by law, in the legislature of that State, in 1789. Luther Martin urged the same measure both in the Federal Convention, and in his report to the Legislature of Maryland. In 1796, St. George Tucker, of Virginia, professor of law in the University of William and Mary, and Judge of the General Court, published a dissertation on slavery, urging the abolition of slavery by _law_.

John Jay, while New-York was yet a slave State, and himself in law a slaveholder, said in a letter from Spain, in 1786, “An excellent law might be made out of the Pennsylvania one, for the gradual abolition of slavery. Were I in your legislature, I would present a bill for the purpose, and I would never cease moving it till it became a law, or I ceased to be a member.”

Governor Tompkins, in a message to the Legislature of New-York, January 8, 1812, said: “To devise the means for the gradual and ultimate _extermination_ from amongst us of slavery, is a work worthy the _representatives_ of a polished and enlightened nation.”

The Virginia Legislature asserted this power in 1832. At the close of a month’s debate, the following proceedings were had. I extract from an editorial article in the Richmond Whig, Jan. 26, 1832.

“The report of the Select Committee, adverse to legislation on the subject of Abolition, was in these words: _Resolved_, as the opinion of this Committee, that it is INEXPEDIENT FOR THE PRESENT, to make any _legislative enactments for the abolition of slavery_.” This Report Mr. Preston moved to reverse, and thus to declare that it _was_ expedient, _now_ to make legislative enactments for the abolition of slavery. This was meeting the question in its strongest form. It demanded action, and immediate action. On this proposition the vote was 58 to 73. Many of the most decided friends of abolition voted against the amendment, because they thought public opinion not sufficiently prepared for it, and that it might prejudice the cause to move too rapidly. The vote on Mr. Witcher’s motion to postpone the whole subject indefinitely, indicates the true state of opinion in the House. That was the test question, and was so intended and proclaimed by its mover. That motion was _negatived_, 71 to 60; showing a majority of 11, who by that vote, declared their belief that at the proper time, and in the proper mode, Virginia ought to commence a system of gradual abolition.

7. THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES HAVE ASSERTED THIS POWER. The ordinance of ’87, declaring that there should be “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude,” in the North Western Territory, abolished the slavery then existing there. The Sup. Court of Mississippi, [Harvey vs. Decker, Walker’s Mi. Reps. 36,] declared that the ordinance of ’87 emancipated the slaves then held there. In this decision the question is argued ably and at great length. The Supreme Court of La. made the same decision in the case of Forsyth vs. Nash, 4 Martin’s La. Reps. 385. The same doctrine was laid down by Judge Porter, (late United States Senator from La.,) in his decision at the March term of the La. Supreme Court, 1830, Merry vs. Chexnaider, 20 Martin’s Reps. 699.

That the ordinance abolished the slavery then existing there is also shown by the fact, that persons holding slaves in the territory petitioned for the repeal of the article abolishing slavery, assigning _that_ as a reason. “The petition of the citizens of Randolph and St. Clair counties in the Illinois country, stating that they were in possession of slaves, and praying the repeal of that act (the 6th article of the ordinance of ’87) and the passage of a law legalizing slavery there.” [Am. State papers, Public Lands, v. 1. p. 69.] Congress passed this ordinance before the United States’ Constitution was adopted, when it derived all its authority from the articles of Confederation, which conferred powers of legislation far more restricted than those committed to Congress over the District and Territories by the United States’ Constitution. Now, we ask, how does the Constitution _abridge_ the powers which Congress possessed under the articles of confederation?

The abolition of the slave trade by Congress, in 1808, is another illustration of the competency of legislative power to abolish slavery. The African slave trade has become such a mere _technic_, in common parlance, that the fact of its being _proper slavery_ is overlooked. The buying and selling, the transportation, and the horrors of the middle passage, were mere _incidents_ of the slavery in which the victims were held. Let things be called by their own names. When Congress abolished the African slave trade, it abolished SLAVERY–supreme slavery–power frantic with license, trampling a whole hemisphere scathed with its fires, and running down with blood. True, Congress did not, in the abolition of the slave trade, abolish all the slavery within its jurisdiction, but it did abolish _all_ the slavery _in one_ part of its jurisdiction. What has rifled it of power to abolish slavery in _another_ part of its jurisdiction, especially in that part where it has “exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever?”

8. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES RECOGNIZES THIS POWER BY THE MOST CONCLUSIVE IMPLICATION. In Art. 1, sec. 3, clause 1, it prohibits the abolition of the slave trade previous to 1808: thus implying the power of Congress to do it at once, but for the restriction; and its power to do it _unconditionally_, when that restriction ceased. Again; In 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 said service or labor.” This clause was inserted, as all admit, to prevent the runaway slave from being emancipated by the _laws_ of the free states. If these laws had _no power_ to emancipate, why this constitutional guard to prevent it?

The insertion of the clause, was the testimony of the eminent jurists that framed the Constitution, to the existence of the _power_, and their public proclamation, that the abolition of slavery was within the appropriate sphere of legislation. The right of the owner to that which is rightfully property, is founded on a principle of _universal law_, and is recognized and protected by all civilized nations; property in slaves is, by general consent, an _exception_; hence slaveholders insisted upon the insertion of this clause in the United States’ Constitution, that they might secure by an _express provision_, that from which protection is withheld, by the acknowledged principles of universal law.[A] By demanding this provision, slaveholders consented that their slaves should not be recognized as property by the United States’ Constitution, and hence they found their claim, on the fact of their being “_persons_, and _held_ to service.”

[Footnote A: The fact, that under the articles of Confederation, slaveholders, whose slaves had escaped into free states, had no legal power to force them back,–that _now_ they have no power to recover, by process of law, their slaves who escape to Canada, the South American States, or to Europe–the case already cited, in which the Supreme Court of Louisiana decided, that residence “_for one moment_,” under the laws of France emancipated an American slave–the case of Fulton, _vs._ Lewis, 3 Har. and John’s Reps., 56, where the slave of a St. Domingo slaveholder, who brought him to Maryland in ’93, was pronounced free by the Maryland Court of Appeals–are illustrations of the acknowledged truth here asserted, that by the consent of the civilized world, and on the principles of universal law, slaves are not “_property_,” and that whenever held as property under _law_, it is only by _positive legislative acts_, forcibly setting aside the law of nature, the common law, and the principles of universal justice and right between man and man,–principles paramount to all law, and from which alone, law derives its intrinsic authoritative sanction.]

9. CONGRESS HAS UNQUESTIONABLE POWER TO ADOPT THE COMMON LAW, AS THE LEGAL SYSTEM, WITHIN ITS EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION.–This has been done, with certain restrictions, in most of the States, either by legislative acts or by constitutional implication. THE COMMON LAW KNOWS NO SLAVES. Its principles annihilate slavery wherever they touch it. It is a universal, unconditional, abolition act. Wherever slavery is a legal system, it is so only by _statute_ law, and in violation of the common law. The declaration of Lord Chief Justice Holt, that, “by the common law, no man can have property in another,” is an acknowledged axiom, and based upon the well known common law definition of property. “The subjects of dominion or property are _things_, as contra-distinguished from _persons_.” Let Congress adopt the common law in the District of Columbia, and slavery there is abolished. Congress may well be at home in common law legislation, for the common law is the grand element of the United States’ Constitution. All its _fundamental_ provisions are instinct with its spirit; and its existence, principles, and paramount authority, are presupposed and assumed throughout the whole. The preamble of the Constitution plants the standard of the Common Law immovably in its foreground. “We, the people of the United States, in order to ESTABLISH JUSTICE, &c., do ordain and establish this Constitution;” thus proclaiming _devotion_ to JUSTICE, as the controlling motive in the organization of the Government, and its secure establishment the chief object of its aims. By this most solemn recognition, the common law, that grand legal embodyment of “justice” and fundamental right–was made the groundwork of the Constitution, and intrenched behind its strongest munitions. The second clause of Sec. 9, Art. 1; Sec. 4, Art. 2, and the last clause of Sec. 2, Art. 3, with Articles 7, 8, 9, and 13 of the Amendments, are also express recognitions of the common law as the presiding Genius of the Constitution.

By adopting the common law within its exclusive jurisdiction Congress would carry out the principles of our glorious Declaration, and follow the highest precedents in our national history and jurisprudence. It is a political maxim as old as civil legislation, that laws should be strictly homogeneous with the principles of the government whose will they express, embodying and carrying them out–being indeed the _principles themselves_, in preceptive form–representatives alike of the nature and power of the Government–standing illustrations of its genius and spirit, while they proclaim and enforce its authority. Who needs be told that slavery makes war upon the principles of the Declaration, and the spirit of the Constitution, and that these and the principles of the common law gravitate towards each other with irrepressible affinities, and mingle into one? The common law came hither with our pilgrim fathers; it was their birthright, their panoply, their glory, and their song of rejoicing in the house of their pilgrimage. It covered them in the day of their calamity, and their trust was under the shadow of its wings. From the first settlement of the country, the genius of our institutions and our national spirit have claimed it as a common possession, and exulted in it with a common pride. A century ago, Governor Pownall, one of the most eminent constitutional jurists of colonial times, said of the common law, “In all the colonies the common law is received as the foundation and main body of their law.” In the Declaration of Rights, made by the Continental Congress at its first session in ’74, there was the following resolution: “Resolved, That the respective colonies are entitled to the common law of England, and especially to the great and inestimable privilege of being tried by their peers of the vicinage according to the course of that law.” Soon after the organization of the general government, Chief Justice Ellsworth, in one of his decisions on the bench of the U. S. Sup. Court, said: “The common law of this country remains the same as it was before the revolution.” Chief Justice Marshall, in his decision in the case of Livingston _vs._ Jefferson, said: “When our ancestors migrated to America, they brought with them the common law of their native country, so far as it was applicable to their new situation, and I do not conceive that the revolution in any degree changed the relations of man to man, or the law which regulates them. In breaking our political connection with the parent state, we did not break our connection with each other.” [_Hall’s Law Journal, new series_.] Mr. Duponceau, in his “Dissertation on the Jurisdiction of Courts in the United States,” says, “I consider the common law of England the _jus commune_ of the United States. I think I can lay it down as a correct principle, that the common law of England, as it was at the time of the Declaration of Independence, still continues to be the national law of this country, so far as it is applicable to our present state, and subject to the modifications it has received here in the course of nearly half a century.” Chief Justice Taylor of North Carolina, in his decision in the case of the State _vs._ Reed, in 1823, Hawkes’ N.C. Reps. 454, says, “a law of _paramount, obligation to the statute_, was violated by the offence–COMMON LAW, founded upon the law of nature, and confirmed by revelation.” The legislation of the United States abounds in recognitions of the principles of the common law, asserting their paramount binding power. Sparing details, of which our national state papers are full, we illustrate by a single instance. It was made a condition of the admission of Louisiana into the Union, that the right of trial by jury should be secured to all her citizens,–the United States government thus employing its power to enlarge the jurisdiction of the common law in this its great representative.

Having shown that the abolition of slavery is within the competency of the law-making power, when unrestricted by constitutional provisions, and that the legislation of Congress over the District is thus unrestricted, its power to abolish slavery there is established. We argue it further, from the fact that,

10. SLAVERY NOW EXISTS IN THE DISTRICT BY AN ACT OF CONGRESS. In the act of 16th July, 1790, Congress accepted portions of territory offered by the states of Maryland and Virginia, and enacted that the laws, as they then were, should continue in force, “until Congress shall otherwise by law provide.” Under these laws, adopted by Congress, and in effect re-enacted and made laws of the District, the slaves there are now held.

Is Congress so impotent in its own “exclusive jurisdiction” that it cannot “otherwise by law provide?” If it can say, what _shall_ be considered property, it can say what shall _not_ be considered property. Suppose a legislature should enact that marriage contracts should be mere bills of sale, making a husband the proprietor of his wife, as his _bona fide_ property; and suppose husbands should herd their wives in droves for the market as beasts of burden, or for the brothel as victims of lust, and then prate about their inviolable legal property, and deny the power of the legislature, which stamped them “property,” to undo its own wrong, and secure to wives by law the rights of human beings. Would such cant about “legal rights” be heeded where reason and justice held sway, and where law, based upon fundamental morality, received homage? If a frantic legislature pronounces woman a chattel, has it no power, with returning reason, to take back the blasphemy? Is the impious edict irrepealable? Be it, that with legal forms it has stamped wives “wares.” Can no legislation blot out the brand? Must the handwriting of Deity on human nature be expunged for ever? Has LAW no power to stay the erasing pen, and tear off the scrawled label that covers up the IMAGE OF GOD?


1. It has been assumed by Congress itself. The following record stands on the journals of the House of Representatives for 1804, p. 225: “On motion made and seconded that the House do come to the following resolution: ‘Resolved, That from and after the 4th day of July, 1805, all blacks and people of color that shall be born within the District of Columbia, or whose mothers shall be the property of any person residing within the said District, shall be free, the males at the age of —-, and the females at the age of —-. The main question being taken that the House do agree to said motions as originally proposed, it was negatived by a majority of 46.'” Though the motion was lost, it was on the ground of its alleged _inexpediency_ alone. In the debate which preceded the vote, the power of Congress was conceded. In March, 1816, the House of Representatives passed the following resolution: “Resolved, That a committee be appointed to inquire into the existence of an inhuman and illegal traffic in slaves, carried on in and through the District of Columbia, and to report whether any and what measures are necessary for _putting a stop to the same_.”

On the 9th of January, 1829, the House of Representatives passed the following resolution by a vote of 114 to 66: “Resolved, That the Committee on the District of Columbia, be instructed to inquire into the _expediency_ of providing by _law_ for the gradual abolition of slavery within the District, in such a manner that the interests of no individual shall be injured thereby.” Among those who voted in the affirmative were Messrs. Barney of Md., Armstrong of Va., A.H. Shepperd of N.C., Blair of Tenn., Chilton and Lyon of Ky., Johns of Del., and others from slave states.

2. IT HAS BEEN CONCEDED BY COMMITTEES OF CONGRESS, ON THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.–In a report of the committee on the District, Jan. 11, 1837, by their chairman, Mr. Powell of Va., there is the following declaration: “The Congress of the United States, has by the constitution exclusive jurisdiction over the District, and has power upon this subject (_slavery_,) as upon all other subjects of legislation, to exercise _unlimited discretion_.” Reports of Comms. 2d Sess. 19th Cong. v. iv. No. 43. In December, 1831, the committee on the District, Mr. Doddridge of Va., Chairman, reported, “That until the adjoining states act on the subject, (_slavery_) it would be (not _unconstitutional_ but) unwise and impolitic, if not unjust, for Congress to interfere.” In April, 1836, a special committee on abolition memorials reported the following resolutions by their Chairman, Mr. Pinckney of South Carolina: “Resolved, That Congress possesses no constitutional authority to interfere in any way with the institution of slavery in any of the states of this confederacy.”

“Resolved, That Congress _ought not to interfere_ in any way with slavery in the District of Columbia.” “Ought not to interfere,” carefully avoiding the phraseology of the first resolution, and thus in effect conceding the constitutional power. In a widely circulated “Address to the electors of the Charleston District,” Mr. Pinkney is thus denounced by his own constituents: “He has proposed a resolution which is received by the plain common sense of the whole country as a concession that Congress has authority to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.”

3. IT HAS BEEN CONCEDED BY THE CITIZENS OF THE DISTRICT. A petition for the gradual abolition of slavery in the District, signed by nearly eleven hundred of its citizens, was presented to Congress, March 24, 1827. Among the signers to this petition, were Chief Justice Cranch, Judge Van Ness, Judge Morsel, Prof. J.M. Staughton, and a large number of the most influential inhabitants of the District. Mr. Dickson, of New York, asserted on the floor of Congress in 1835, that the signers to this petition owned more than half the property in the District. The accuracy of this statement has never been questioned.

THIS POWER HAS BEEN CONCEDED BY GRAND JURIES OF THE DISTRICT. The grand jury of the county of Alexandria, at the March term, 1802, presented the domestic slaves trade as a grievance, and said, “We consider these grievances demanding _legislative_ redress.” Jan. 19, 1829, Mr. Alexander, of Virginia, presented a representation of the grand jury in the city of Washington, remonstrating against “any measure for the abolition of slavery within said District, unless accompanied by measures for the removal of the emancipated from the same;” thus, not only conceding the power to emancipate slaves, but affirming an additional power, that of _excluding them when free_. Journal H. R. 1828-9, p. 174.

4. THIS POWER HAS BEEN CONCEDED BY STATE LEGISLATURES. In 1828 the Legislature of Pennsylvania instructed their Senators in Congress “to procure, if practicable, the passage of a law to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.” Jan. 28, 1829, the House of Assembly of New York passed a resolution, that their “Senators in Congress be instructed to make every possible exertion to effect the passage of a law for the abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia.” In February, 1837, the Senate of Massachusetts “Resolved, That Congress having exclusive legislation in the District of Columbia, possess the right to abolish slavery and the slave trade therein.” The House of Representatives passed the following resolution at the same session: “Resolved, That Congress having exclusive legislation in the District of Columbia, possess the right to abolish slavery in said District.” November 1, 1837, the Legislature of Vermont, “Resolved that Congress have the full power by the constitution to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia, and in the territories.”

In May, 1838, the Legislature of Connecticut passed a resolution asserting the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

In January, 1836, the Legislature of South Carolina “Resolved, That we should consider the abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia as a violation of the rights of the citizens of that District derived from the _implied_ conditions on which that territory was ceded to the General Government.” Instead of denying the constitutional power, they virtually admit its existence, by striving to smother it under an _implication_. In February, 1836, the Legislature of North Carolina “Resolved, That, although by the Constitution _all legislative power_ over the District of Columbia is vested in the Congress of the United States, yet we would deprecate any legislative action on the part of that body towards liberating the slaves of that District, as a breach of faith towards those States by whom the territory was originally ceded. Here is a full concession of the _power_. February 2, 1836, the Virginia Legislature passed unanimously the following resolution: “Resolved, by the General Assembly of Virginia, that the following article be proposed to the several states of this Union, and to Congress, as an amendment of the Constitution of the United States:” “The powers of Congress shall not be so construed as to authorize the passage of any law for the emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia, without the consent of the individual proprietors thereof, unless by the sanction of the Legislatures of Virginia and Maryland, and under such conditions as they shall by law prescribe.”

Fifty years after the formation of the United States’ constitution the states are solemnly called upon by the Virginia Legislature, to amend that instrument by a clause asserting that, in the grant to Congress of “exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District, the “case” of slavery is not included!! What could have dictated such a resolution but the conviction that the power to abolish slavery is an irresistible inference from the constitution _as it is?_ The fact that the same legislature, passed afterward a resolution, though by no means unanimously, that Congress does not possess the power, abates not a title of the testimony in the first resolution. March 23d, 1824, “Mr. Brown presented the resolutions of the General Assembly of Ohio, recommending to Congress the consideration of a system for the gradual emancipation of persons of color held in servitude in the United States.” On the same day, “Mr. Noble, of Indiana, communicated a resolution from the legislature of that state, respecting the gradual emancipation of slaves within the United States.” Journal of the United States’ Senate, for 1824-5, p.231.

The Ohio and Indiana resolutions, by taking for granted the _general_ power of Congress over the subject of slavery, do virtually assert its _special_ power within its _exclusive_ jurisdiction.

5. THIS POWER HAS BEEN CONCEDED BY BODIES OF CITIZENS IN THE SLAVE STATES. The petition of eleven hundred citizens of the District, has been already mentioned. “March 5,1830, Mr. Washington presented a memorial of inhabitants of the county of Frederick, in the state of Maryland, praying that provision be made for the gradual abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.” Journal H.R. 1829-30, p. 358.

March 30, 1828. Mr. A.H. Shepperd, of North Carolina, presented a memorial of citizens of that state, “praying Congress to take measures for the entire abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.” Journal H.R. 1829-30, p. 379.

January 14, 1822. Mr. Rhea, of Tennessee, presented a memorial of citizens of that state, praying that “provision may be made, whereby all slaves that may hereafter be born in the District of Columbia, shall be free at a certain period of their lives.” Journal H.R. 1821-22, p.142.

December 13, 1824. Mr. Saunders of North Carolina, presented a memorial of the citizens of that state, praying “that measures may be taken for the gradual abolition of slavery in the United States.” Journal H.R. 1824-25, p.27.

December 16, 1828. “Mr. Barnard presented the memorial of the American Convention for promoting the abolition of slavery, held in Baltimore, praying that slavery may be abolished in the District of Columbia.” Journal U.S. Senate, 1828-29, p.24.

6. DISTINGUISHED STATESMEN AND JURISTS IN THE SLAVEHOLDING STATES, HAVE CONCEDED THIS POWER. The testimony Of Messrs. Doddridge, and Powell, of Virginia, Chief Justice Cranch, and Judges Morsel and Van Ness, of the District, has already been given. In the debate in Congress on the memorial of the Society of Friends, in 1790, Mr. Madison, in speaking of the territories of the United States, explicitly declared, from his own knowledge of the views of the members of the convention that framed the constitution, as well as from the obvious import of its terms, that in the territories, “Congress have certainly the power to regulate the subject of slavery.” Congress can have no more power over the territories than that of “exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever,” consequently, according to Mr. Madison, “it has certainly the power to regulate the subject of slavery in the” _District_. In March, 1816, Mr. Randolph of Virginia, introduced a resolution for putting a stop to the domestic slave trade within the District. December 12, 1827, Mr. Barney, of Maryland, presented a memorial for abolition in the District, and moved that it be printed. Mr. McDuffie, of S.C., objected to the printing, but “expressly admitted the right of Congress to grant to the people of the District any measure which they might deem necessary to free themselves from the deplorable evil.”–[See letter of Mr. Claiborne of Miss. to his constituents published in the Washington Globe, May 9, 1836.] The sentiments of Mr. Clay of Kentucky, on the subject are well known. In a speech before the U.S. Senate, in 1836, he declared the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District “unquestionable.” Messrs. Blair, of Tennessee, and Chilton, Lyon, and R.M. Johnson, of Kentucky, A.H. Shepperd, of N.C., Messrs. Armstrong and Smyth of Va., Messrs. Dorsey, Archer, and Barney, of Md., and Johns, of Del., with numerous others from slave states have asserted the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District. In the speech of Mr. Smyth, of Virginia, on the Missouri question, January 28, 1820, he says on this point: “If the future freedom of the blacks is your real object, and not a mere pretence, why do you begin _here_? Within the ten miles square, you have _undoubted power_ to exercise exclusive legislation. _Produce a bill to emancipate the slaves in the District of Columbia_, or, if you prefer it, to emancipate those born hereafter.”

To this may be added the testimony of the present Vice President of the United States, Hon. Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky. In a speech before the U.S. Senate, February 1, 1820, (National Intelligencer, April 29, 1829,) he says: “In the District of Columbia, containing a population of 30,000 souls, and probably as many slaves as the whole territory of Missouri, THE POWER OF PROVIDING FOR THEIR EMANCIPATION RESTS WITH CONGRESS ALONE. Why then, this heart-rending sympathy for the slaves of Missouri, and this cold insensibility, this eternal apathy, towards the slaves in the District of Columbia?”

It is quite unnecessary to add, that the most distinguished northern statesmen of both political parties, have always affirmed the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District. President Van Buren in his letter of March 6, 1836, to a committee of Gentlemen in North Carolina, says, “I would not, from the light now before me, feel myself safe in pronouncing that Congress does not possess the power of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.” This declaration of the President is consistent with his avowed sentiments touching the Missouri question, on which he coincided with such men as Daniel D. Thompkins, De Witt Clinton, and others, whose names are a host.[A] It is consistent, also with his recommendation in his last message, in which speaking of the District, he strongly urges upon Congress “a thorough and careful revision of its local government,” speaks of the “entire independence” of the people of the District “upon Congress,” recommends that a “uniform system of local government” be adopted, and adds, that “although it was selected as the seat of the General Government, the site of its public edifices, the depository of its archives, and the residences of officers intrusted with large amounts of public property, and the management of public business, yet it never has been subjected to, or received, that _special_ and _comprehensive_ legislation which these circumstances peculiarly demanded.”

[Footnote A: Mr. Van Buren, when a member of the Senate of New-York, voted for the following preamble and resolutions, which passed unanimously:–Jan. 28th, 1820. “Whereas the inhibiting the further extension of slavery in the United States, is a subject of deep concern to the people of this state: and whereas, we consider slavery as an evil much to be deplored, and that _every constitutional barrier should be interposed to prevent its further extension_: and that the constitution of the United States _clearly gives Congress the right_ to require new states, not comprised within the original boundary of the United States, to _make the prohibition of slavery_ a condition of their admission into the Union: Therefore,

Resolved, That our Senators be instructed, and our members of Congress be requested, to oppose the admission as a state into the Union, of any territory not comprised as aforesaid, without making _the prohibition of slavery_ therein an indispensible condition of admission.”

The tenor of Mr. Tallmadge’s speech on the right of petition, and of Mr. Webster’s on the reception of abolition memorials, may be taken as universal exponents of the sentiments of northern statesmen as to the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

An explicit declaration, that an “_overwhelming majority_” of the _present_ Congress concede the power to abolish slavery in the District has just been made by Robert Barnwell Rhett, a member of Congress from South Carolina, in a letter published in the Charleston Mercury of Dec. 27, 1837. The following is an extract:

“The time has arrived when we must have new guaranties under the constitution, or the Union must be dissolved. _Our views of the constitution are not those of the majority_. AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY _think that by the constitution, Congress may abolish slavery in the District of Columbia–may abolish the slave trade between the States; that is, it may prohibit their being carried out of the State in which they are–and prohibit it in all the territories, Florida among them. They think_, NOT WITHOUT STRONG REASONS, _that the power of Congress extends to all of these subjects_.”

_Direct testimony_ to show that the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District, has always till recently been _universally conceded_, is perhaps quite superfluous. We subjoin, however, the following:

The Vice-President of the United States in his speech on the Missouri question, quoted above, after contending that the restriction of slavery in Missouri would be unconstitutional, declares, that the power of Congress over slavery in the District “COULD NOT BE QUESTIONED.” In the speech of Mr. Smyth, of Va., also quoted above, he declares the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District to be “UNDOUBTED.”

Mr. Sutherland, of Penn., in a speech in the House of Representatives, on the motion to print Mr. Pinckney’s Report, is thus reported in the Washington Globe, of May 9th, ’36. “He replied to the remark that the report conceded that Congress had a right to legislate upon the subject in the District of Columbia, and said that SUCH A RIGHT HAD NEVER BEEN, TILL RECENTLY, DENIED.”

The American Quarterly Review, published at Philadelphia, with a large circulation and list of contributors in the slave states, holds the following language in the September No. 1833, p. 55: “Under this ‘exclusive jurisdiction,’ granted by the constitution, Congress has power to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia. It would hardly be necessary to state this as a distinct proposition, had it not been occasionally questioned. The truth of the assertion, however, is too obvious to admit of argument–and we believe has NEVER BEEN DISPUTED BY PERSONS WHO ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE CONSTITUTION.”


We now proceed to notice briefly the main arguments that have been employed in Congress and elsewhere against the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District. One of the most plausible is, that “the conditions on which Maryland and Virginia ceded the District to the United States, would be violated, if Congress should abolish slavery there.” The reply to this is, that Congress had no power to _accept_ a cession coupled with conditions restricting that “power of exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District,” which was given it by the constitution.

To show the futility of the objection, we insert here the acts of cession. The cession of Maryland was made in November, 1788, and is as follows: “An act to cede to Congress a district of ten miles square in this state for the seat of the government of the United States.”

“Be it enacted, by the General Assembly of Maryland, that the representatives of this state in the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, appointed to assemble at New-York, on the first Wednesday of March next, be, and they are; hereby authorized and required on the behalf of this state, to cede to the Congress of the United States, any district in this state, not exceeding ten miles square, which the Congress may fix upon, and accept for the seat of government of the United States.” Laws of Md., v. 2., c. 46.

The cession of Virginia was made on the 3d of December, 1788, in the following words:

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That a tract of country, not exceeding ten miles square, or any lesser quantity, to be located within the limits of the State, and in any part thereof; as Congress may, by law, direct, shall be, and the same is hereby forever ceded and relinquished to the Congress and Government of the United States, in full and absolute right, and exclusive jurisdiction, as well of soil, as of persons residing or to reside thereon, pursuant to the tenor and effect of the eighth section of the first article of the government of the constitution of the United States.”

But were there no provisos to these acts? The Maryland act had _none_. The Virginia act had this proviso: “Sect. 2. Provided, that nothing herein contained, shall be construed to vest in the United States any right of property in the soil, or to affect the rights of individuals _therein_, otherwise than the same shall or may be transferred by such individuals to the United States.”

This specification touching the soil was merely definitive and explanatory of that clause in the act of cession, “_full and absolute right_.” Instead of restraining the power of Congress on _slavery_ and other subjects, it even gives it freer course; for exceptions to _parts_ of a rule, give double confirmation to those parts not embraced in the exceptions. If it was the _design_ of the proviso to restrict congressional action on the subject of _slavery_, why is the _soil alone_ specified? As legal instruments are not paragons of economy in words, might not “John Doe,” out of his abundance, and without spoiling his style, have afforded an additional word–at least a hint–that slavery was _meant_, though nothing was said about it?

But again, Maryland and Virginia, in their acts of cession, declare them to be made “in pursuance of” that clause of the constitution which gives to Congress “exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the ten miles square–thus, instead of _restricting_ that clause, both States _confirm_ it. Now, their acts of cession either accorded with that clause of the constitution, or they conflicted with it. If they conflicted with it, _accepting_ the cessions was a violation of the constitution. The fact that Congress accepted the cessions, proves that in its views their _terms_ did not conflict with its constitutional grant of power. The inquiry whether these acts of cession were consistent or inconsistent with the United Status’ constitution, is totally irrelevant to the question at issue. What with the CONSTITUTION? That is the question. Not, what with Virginia, or Maryland, or–equally to the point–John Bull! If Maryland and Virginia had been the authorized interpreters of the constitution for the Union, these acts of cession could hardly have been more magnified than they have been recently by the southern delegation in Congress. A true understanding of the constitution can be had, forsooth, only by holding it up in the light of Maryland and Virginia legislation!

We are told, again, that those States would not have ceded the District if they had supposed the constitution gave Congress power to abolish slavery in it.

This comes with an ill grace from Maryland and Virginia. They _knew_ the constitution. They were parties to it. They had sifted it, clause by clause, in their State conventions. They had weighed its words in the balance–they had tested them as by fire; and, finally, after long pondering, they adopted the constitution. And _afterward_, self-moved, they ceded the ten miles square, and declared the cession made “in pursuance of” that oft-cited clause, “Congress shall have power to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such District.” And now verily “they would not have ceded if they had _supposed_!” &c. Cede it they _did_, and in “full and absolute right both of soil and persons.” Congress accepted the cession–state power over the District ceased, and congressional power over it commenced,–and now, the sole question to be settled is, the _amount of power over the District lodged in Congress by the constitution_. The constitution–THE CONSTITUTION–that is the point. Maryland and Virginia “suppositions” must be potent suppositions to abrogate a clause of the United States’ Constitution! That clause either gives Congress power to abolish slavery in the District, or it does _not_–and that point is to be settled, not by state “suppositions,” nor state usages, nor state legislation, but _by the terms of the clause themselves_.

Southern members of Congress, in the recent discussions, have conceded the power of a contingent abolition in the District, by suspending it upon the _consent_ of the people. Such a doctrine from _declaimers_ like Messrs. Alford, of Georgia, and Walker, of Mississippi, would excite no surprise; but that it should be honored with the endorsement of such men as Mr. Rives and Mr. Calhoun, is quite unaccountable. Are attributes of sovereignty mere creatures of contingency? Is delegated authority mere conditional permission? Is a constitutional power to be exercised by those who hold it, only by popular sufferance? Must it lie helpless at the pool of public sentiment, waiting the gracious troubling of its waters? Is it a lifeless corpse, save only when popular “consent” deigns to puff breath into its nostrils? Besides, if the consent of the people of the District be necessary, the consent of the _whole_ people must be had–not that of a majority, however large. Majorities, to be authoritative, must be _legal_–and a legal majority without legislative power, or right of representation, or even the electoral franchise, would be truly an anomaly! In the District of Columbia, such a thing as a majority in a legal sense is unknown to law. To talk of the power of a majority, or the will of a majority there, is mere mouthing. A majority? Then it has an authoritative will, and an organ to make it known, and an executive to carry it into effect–Where are they? We repeat it–if the consent of the people of the District be necessary, the consent of _every one_ is necessary–and _universal_ consent will come only with the Greek Kalends and a “perpetual motion.” A single individual might thus perpetuate slavery in defiance of the expressed will of a whole people. The most common form of this fallacy is given by Mr. Wise, of Virginia, in his speech, February 16, 1835, in which he denied the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District, unless the inhabitants owning slaves petitioned for it!! Southern members of Congress at the present session (1837-8) ring changes almost daily upon the same fallacy. What! pray Congress _to use_ a power which it _has not_? “It is required of a man according to what he _hath_,” saith the Scripture. I commend Mr. Wise to Paul for his ethics. Would that he had got his _logic_ of him! If Congress does not possess the power, why taunt it with its weakness, by asking its exercise? Petitioning, according to Mr. Wise, is, in matters of legislation, omnipotence itself; the very _source_ of all constitutional power; for, _asking_ Congress to do what it _cannot_ do, gives it the power!–to pray the exercise of a power that is _not, creates_ it! A beautiful theory! Let us work it both ways. If to petition for the exercise of a power that is _not_, creates it–to petition against the exercise of a power that _is_, annihilates it. As southern gentlemen are partial to summary processes, pray, sirs, try the virtue of your own recipe on “exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever;” a better subject for experiment and test of the prescription could not be had. But if the petitions of the citizens of the District give Congress the _right_ to abolish slavery, they impose the _duty_; if they confer constitutional _authority_, they create constitutional _obligation_. If Congress _may_ abolish because of an expression of their will, it _must_ abolish at the bidding of that will. If the people of the District are a _source of power_ to Congress, their _expressed will_ has the force of a constitutional provision, and has the same binding power upon the National Legislature. To make Congress dependent on the District for authority, is to make it a _subject_ of its authority, restraining the exercise of its own discretion, and sinking it into a mere organ of the District’s will. We proceed to another objection.

“_The southern states would not have ratified the constitution, if they had supposed that it gave this power_.” It is a sufficient answer to this objection, that the northern states would not have ratified it, if they had supposed that it _withheld_ the power. If “suppositions” are to take the place of the constitution–coming from both sides, they neutralize each other. To argue a constitutional question by _guessing_ at the “suppositions” that might have been made by the parties to it would find small favor in a court of law. But even a desperate shift is some easement when sorely pushed. If this question is to be settled by “suppositions,” suppositions shall be forthcoming, and that without stint.

First, then, I affirm that the North ratified the constitution, “supposing” that slavery had begun to wax old, and would speedily vanish away, and especially that the abolition of the slave trade, which by the constitution was to be surrendered to Congress after twenty years, would plunge it headlong.

Would the North have adopted the constitution, giving three-fifths of the “slave property” a representation, if it had “supposed” that the slaves would have increased from half a million to two millions and a half by 1838–and that the census of 1840 would give to the slave states thirty representatives of “slave property?”

If they had “supposed” that this representation would have controlled the legislation of the government, and carried against the North every question vital to its interests, would Hamilton, Franklin, Sherman, Gerry, Livingston, Langdon, and Rufus King have been such madmen, as to sign the constitution, and the Northern States such suicides as to ratify it? Every self-preserving instinct would have shrieked at such an infatuate immolation. At the adoption of the United States constitution, slavery was regarded as a fast waning system. This conviction was universal. Washington, Jefferson, Henry, Grayson, Tucker, Madison, Wythe, Pendleton, Lee, Blair, Mason, Page, Parker, Randolph, Iredell, Spaight, Ramsey, Pinkney, Martin, McHenry, Chase, and nearly all the illustrious names south of the Potomac, proclaimed it before the sun. A reason urged in the convention that formed the United States’ constitution, why the word slave should not be used in it, was, _that when slavery should cease_ there might remain upon the National Charter no record that it had ever been. (See speech of Mr. Burrill, of R.I., on the Missouri question.)

I now proceed to show by testimony, that at the date of the United States’ constitution, and for several years before and after that period, slavery was rapidly on the wane; that the American Revolution with the great events preceding, accompanying, and following it, had wrought an immense and almost universal change in the public sentiment of the nation on the subject, powerfully impelling it toward the entire abolition of the system–and that it was the _general belief_ that measures for its abolition throughout the Union, would be commenced by the States generally before the lapse of many years. A great mass of testimony establishing this position might be presented, but narrow space, and the importance of speedy publication, counsel brevity. Let the following proofs suffice. First, a few dates as points of observation.

In 1757, Commissioners from seven colonies met at Albany, resolved upon a Union and proposed a plan of general government. In 1765, delegates from nine colonies met at New York and sent forth a bill of rights. The first _general_ Congress met in 1774. The first Congress of the _thirteen_ colonies met in 1775. The revolutionary war commenced in ’75. Independence was declared in ’76. The articles of confederation were adopted by the thirteen states in ’77 and ’78. Independence acknowledged in ’83. The convention for forming the U.S. constitution was held in ’87, the state conventions for considering it in ’87 and ’88. The first Congress under the constitution in ’89.

Dr. Rush, of Pennsylvania, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, in a letter to Granville Sharpe, May 1, 1773, says: “A spirit of humanity and religion begins to awaken in several of the colonies in favor of the poor negroes. Great events have been brought about by small beginnings. _Anthony Benezet stood alone a few years_ _ago in opposing negro slavery in Philadelphia_, and NOW THREE-FOURTHS OF THE PROVINCE AS WELL AS OF THE CITY CRY OUT AGAINST IT.”–[Stuart’s Life of Granville Sharpe, p. 21.]

In the preamble to the act prohibiting the importation of slaves into Rhode Island, June, 1774, is the following: “Whereas the inhabitants of America are generally engaged in the preservation of their own rights and liberties, among which that of personal freedom must be considered the greatest, and as those who are desirous of enjoying all the advantages of liberty themselves, _should be willing to extend personal liberty to others_, therefore,” &c.

October 20, 1774, the Continental Congress passed the following: “We, for ourselves and the inhabitants of the several colonies whom we represent, _firmly agree and associate under the sacred ties of virtue, honor, and love of our country_, as follows:”

“2d Article. _We will neither import nor purchase any slaves imported_ after the first day of December next, after which time we will _wholly discontinue_ the slave trade, and we will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels nor _sell our commodities or manufactures_ to those who are concerned in it.”

The Continental Congress, in 1775, setting forth the causes and the necessity for taking up arms, say: “_If it were possible_ for men who exercise their reason to believe that the divine Author of our existence intended a part of the human race _to hold an absolute property in_, and _unbounded power over others_,” &c.

In 1776, Dr. Hopkins, then at the head of New England divines, in “An Address to the owners of negro slaves in the American colonies,” says: “The conviction of the unjustifiableness of this practice (slavery) has been _increasing_, and _greatly spreading of late_, and _many_ who have had slaves, have found themselves so unable to justify their own conduct in holding them in bondage, as to be induced to _set them at liberty_. * * * * * Slavery is _in every instance_, wrong, unrighteous, and oppressive–a very great and crying sin–_there being nothing of the kind equal to it on the face of the earth_.”

The same year the American Congress issued a solemn MANIFESTO to the world. These were its first words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that _all_ men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” _Once_, these were words of power; _now_, “a rhetorical flourish.”

The Virginia Gazette of March 19, 1767, in an essay on slavery says: “_There cannot be in nature, there is not in all history, an instance in which every right of man is more flagrantly violated_. Enough I hope has been effected to prove that slavery is a violation of justice and religion.”

The celebrated Patrick Henry of Virginia, in a letter, Jan. 18, 1773, to Robert Pleasants, afterwards president of the Virginia Abolition Society, says: “Believe me, I shall honor the Quakers for their noble efforts to abolish slavery. It is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion to show that it is at variance with that law that warrants slavery. I exhort you to persevere in so worthy a resolution.”

The Pennsylvania Chronicle of Nov. 21, 1768, says: “Let every black that shall henceforth be born amongst us be deemed free. One step farther would be to emancipate the whole race, restoring that liberty we have so long unjustly detained from them. Till some step of this kind be taken we shall justly be the derision of the whole world.”

In 1779, the Continental Congress ordered a pamphlet to be published, entitled, “Observations on the American Revolution,” from which the following is an extract: “The great principle (of government) is and ever will remain in force, _that men are by Nature free_; and so long as we have any idea of divine _justice_, we must associate that of _human freedom_. It is _conceded on all hands, that the right to be free_ CAN NEVER BE ALIENATED.”

Extract from the Pennsylvania act for the abolition of slavery, passed March 1, 1780: * * * “We conceive that it is our duty, and we rejoice that it is in our power, to extend a portion of that freedom to others which has been extended to us. Weaned by a long course of experience from those narrow prejudices and partialities we had imbibed, we find our hearts enlarged with kindness and benevolence towards men of all conditions and nations: * * * Therefore be it enacted, that no child born hereafter be a slave,” &c.

Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia, written just before the close of the Revolutionary War, says: “I think a change already perceptible since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave is rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, _and the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven_, FOR A TOTAL EMANCIPATION.”

In a letter to Dr. Price, of London, who had just published a pamphlet in favor of the abolition of slavery, Mr. Jefferson, then minister at Paris, (August 7, 1785,) says: “From the mouth to the head of the Chesapeake, _the bulk of the people will approve of your pamphlet in theory_, and it will find a respectable minority ready to _adopt it in practice_–a minority which, for weight and worth of character, _preponderates against the greater number_.” Speaking of Virginia, he says: “This is the next state to which we may turn our eyes for the interesting spectacle of justice in conflict with avarice and oppression,–a conflict in which the SACRED SIDE IS GAINING DAILY RECRUITS. Be not, therefore, discouraged–what you have written will do a _great deal of good_; and could you still trouble yourself with our welfare, no man is more able to give aid to the laboring side. The College of William and Mary, since the remodelling of its plan, is the place where are collected together all the young men of Virginia, under preparation for public life. They are there under the direction (most of them) of a Mr. Wythe, one of the most virtuous of characters, and _whose sentiments on the subject of slavery are unequivocal_. I am satisfied, if you could resolve to address an exhortation to those young men with all that eloquence of which you are master, that _its influence on the future decision of this important question would be great, perhaps decisive_. Thus. you see, that so far from thinking you have cause to repent of what you have done, _I wish you to do more, and I wish it on an assurance of its effect_.”–Jefferson’s Posthumous Works, vol. 1, p. 268.

In 1786, John Jay drafted and signed a petition to the Legislature of New York, on the subject of slavery, beginning with these words: “Your memorialists being deeply affected by the situation of those, who, although, FREE BY THE LAWS OF GOD, are held in slavery by the laws of the State,” &c. This memorial bore also the signatures of the celebrated Alexander Hamilton; Robert R. Livingston, afterwards Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the United States, and Chancellor of the State of New York; James Duane, Mayor of the City of New York, and many others of the most eminent individuals in the State.

In the preamble of an instrument, by which Mr. Jay emancipated a slave in 1784, is the following passage:

“Whereas, the children of men are by nature equally free, and cannot, without injustice, be either reduced to or HELD in slavery.”

In his letter while Minister at Spain, in 1786, he says, speaking of the abolition of slavery: “Till America comes into this measure, her prayers to heaven will be IMPIOUS. I believe God governs the world; and I believe it to be a maxim in his, as in our court, that those who ask for equity _ought to do it_.”

In 1785, the New York Manumission Society was formed. John Jay was chosen its first President, and held the office five years. Alexander Hamilton was its second President, and after holding the office one year, resigned upon his removal to Philadelphia as Secretary of the United States’ Treasury. In 1787, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was formed. Benjamin Franklin, warm from the discussions of the convention that formed the U.S. constitution, was chosen President, and Benjamin Rush Secretary–both signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1789, the Maryland Abolition Society was formed. Among its officers were Samuel Chase, Judge of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Luther Martin, a member of the convention that formed the U.S. constitution. In 1790, the Connecticut Abolition Society was formed. The first President was Rev. Dr. Stiles, President of Yale College, and the Secretary, Simeon Baldwin, (late Judge Baldwin of New Haven.) In 1791, this Society sent a memorial to Congress, from which the following is an extract:

“From a sober conviction of the unrighteousness of slavery, your petitioners have long beheld, with grief, our fellow men doomed to perpetual bondage, in a country which boasts of her freedom. Your petitioners were led, by motives, we conceive, of general philanthropy, to associate ourselves for the protection and assistance of this unfortunate part of our fellow men; and, though this Society has been _lately_ established, it has now become _generally extensive_ through this state, and, we fully believe, _embraces, on this subject, the sentiments of a large majority of its citizens_.”

The same year the Virginia Abolition Society was formed. This Society, and the Maryland Society, had auxiliaries in different parts of those States. Both societies sent up memorials to Congress. The memorial of the Virginia Society is headed–“The memorial of the _Virginia Society_, for promoting the Abolition of Slavery,” &c. The following is an extract:

“Your memorialists, fully believing that slavery is not only an odious degradation, but an _outrageous violation of one of the most essential rights of human nature, and utterly repugnant to the precepts of the gospel_,” &c.

About the same time a Society was formed in New-Jersey. It had an acting committee of five members in each county in the State. The following is an extract from the preamble to its constitution:

“It is our boast, that we live under a government, wherein _life, liberty_, and the _pursuit of happiness_, are recognized as the universal rights of men. We _abhor that inconsistent, illiberal, and interested policy, which withholds those rights from an unfortunate and degraded class of our fellow creatures_.”

Among other distinguished individuals who were efficient officers of these Abolition Societies, and delegates from their respective state societies, at the annual meetings of the American convention for promoting the abolition of slavery, were Hon. Uriah Tracy, United States’ Senator, from Connecticut; Hon. Zephaniah Swift, Chief Justice of the same State; Hon. Cesar A. Rodney, Attorney General of the United States; Hon. James A. Bayard, United States’ Senator, from Delaware; Governor Bloomfield, of New-Jersey; Hon. Wm. Rawle, the late venerable head of the Philadelphia bar; Dr. Caspar Wistar, of Philadelphia; Messrs. Foster and Tillinghast, of Rhode Island; Messrs. Ridgely, Buchanan, and Wilkinson, of Maryland; and Messrs. Pleasants, McLean, and Anthony, of Virginia.

In July, 1787, the old Congress passed the celebrated ordinance abolishing slavery in the northwestern territory, and declaring that it should never thereafter exist there. This ordinance was passed while the convention that formed the United States’ constitution was in session. At the first session of Congress under the constitution, this ordinance was ratified by a special act. Washington, fresh from the discussions of the convention, in which _more than forty days had been spent in adjusting the question of slavery, gave it his approval_. The act passed with only one dissenting voice, (that of Mr. Yates, of New York,) _the South equally with the North avowing the fitness and expediency of the measure on general considerations, and indicating thus early the line of national policy, to be pursued by the United States’ Government on the subject of slavery_.

In the debates in the North Carolina Convention, Mr. Iredell, afterward a Judge of the United States’ Supreme Court, said, “_When the entire abolition of slavery takes place_, it will be an event which must be pleasing to every generous mind and every friend of human nature.” Mr. Galloway said, “I wish to see this abominable trade put an end to. I apprehend the clause (touching the slave trade) means _to bring forward manumission_.” Luther Martin, of Maryland, a member of the convention that formed the United States’ Constitution, said, “We ought to authorize the General Government to make such regulations as shall be thought most advantageous for _the gradual abolition of slavery_, and the _emancipation of the slaves_ which are already in the States.” Judge Wilson, of Pennsylvania, one of the framers of the constitution, said, in the Pennsylvania convention of ’87, [Deb. Pa. Con. p. 303, 156:] “I consider this (the clause relative to the slave trade) as laying the foundation for _banishing slavery out of this country_. It will produce the same kind of gradual change which was produced in Pennsylvania; the new States which are to be formed will be under the control of Congress in this particular, and _slaves will never be introduced_ among them. It presents us with the pleasing prospect that the rights of mankind will be acknowledged and established _throughout the Union_. Yet the lapse of a few years, and Congress will have power to _exterminate slavery_ within our borders.” In the Virginia convention of ’87, Mr. Mason, author of the Virginia constitution, said, “The augmentation of slaves weakens the States, and such a trade is _diabolical_ in itself, and disgraceful to mankind. As much as I value a union of all the States, I would not admit the Southern States, (i.e., South Carolina and Georgia,) into the union, _unless they agree to a discontinuance of this disgraceful trade_.” Mr. Tyler opposed with great power the clause prohibiting the abolition of the slave trade till 1808, and said, “My earnest desire is, that it shall be handed down to posterity that I oppose this wicked clause.” Mr. Johnson said, “The principle of emancipation _has begun since the revolution. Let us do what we will, it will come round_.”–[Deb. Va. Con. p. 463.] Patrick Henry, arguing the power of Congress under the United States’ constitution to abolish slavery in the States, said, in the same convention, “Another thing will contribute to bring this event (the abolition of slavery) about. Slavery is _detested_. We feel its fatal effects; we deplore it with all the pity of humanity.” Governor Randolph said: “They insist that the _abolition of slavery will result from this Constitution_. I hope that there is no one here, who will advance _an objection so dishonorable_ to Virginia–I hope that at the moment they are securing the rights of their citizens, an objection will not be started, that those unfortunate men now held in bondage, _by the operation of the general government_ may be made free!” [_Deb. Va. Con._ p. 421.] In the Mass. Con. of ’88, Judge Dawes said, “Although slavery is not smitten by an apoplexy, yet _it has received a mortal wound_, and will die of consumption.”–[_Deb. Mass. Con._ p. 60.] General Heath said that, “Slavery was confined to the States _now existing_, it _could not be extended_. By their ordinance, Congress had declared that the new States should be republican States, _and have no slavery_.”–p. 147.

In the debate, in the first Congress, February 11th and 12th, 1789, on the petitions of the Society of Friends, and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, Mr. Parker, of Virginia, said, “I cannot help expressing the pleasure I feel in finding _so considerable a part_ of the community attending to matters of such a momentous concern to the _future prosperity_ and happiness of the people of America. I think it my duty, as a citizen of the Union, to _espouse their cause_.”

Mr. Page, of Virginia, (afterwards Governor)–“Was _in favor_ of the commitment: he hoped that the designs of the respectable memorialists would not be stopped at the threshold, in order to preclude a fair discussion of the prayer of the memorial. He placed himself in the case of a slave, and said, that on hearing that Congress had refused to listen to the decent suggestions of the respectable part of the community, he should infer, that the general government, _from which was expected great good would result to_ EVERY CLASS _of citizens_, had shut their ears against the voice of humanity, and he should despair of any alleviation of the miseries he and his posterity had in prospect; if any thing could induce him to rebel, it must be a stroke like this, impressing on his mind all the horrors of despair. But if he was told, that application was made in his behalf, and that Congress were willing to hear what could be urged in favor of discouraging the practice of importing his fellow-wretches, he would trust in their justice and humanity, and _wait the decision patiently_.”

Mr. Scott of Pennsylvania: “I cannot, for my part, conceive how any person _can be said to acquire a property in another. I do not know how far I might go, if I was one of the judges of the United States, and those people were to come before me and claim their emancipation, but I am sure I would go as far as I could_.”

Mr. Burke, of South Carolina, said, “He _saw the disposition of the House_, and he feared it would be referred to a committee, maugre all their opposition.”

Mr. Baldwin of Georgia said that the clause in the U.S. Constitution relating to direct taxes “was intended to prevent Congress from laying any special tax upon negro slaves, _as they might, in this way, so burthen the possessors of them, as to induce a_ GENERAL EMANCIPATION.”

Mr. Smith of South Carolina, said, “That on entering into this government, they (South Carolina and Georgia) apprehended that the other states, * * * _would, from motives of humanity and benevolence, be led to vote for a general emancipation_.”

In the debate, at the same session, May 13th, 1789, on the petition of the society of Friends respecting the slave trade, Mr. Parker, of Virginia, said, “He hoped Congress would do all that lay in their power _to restore to human nature its inherent privileges_. The inconsistency in our principles, with which we are justly charged _should be done away_.”

Mr. Jackson, of Georgia, said, “IT WAS THE FASHION OF THE DAY TO FAVOR THE LIBERTY OF THE SLAVES. * * * * * Will Virginia set her negroes free? _When this practice comes to be tried, then the sound of liberty will lose those charms which make it grateful to the ravished ear_.”

Mr. Madison of Virginia,–“The dictates of humanity, the principles of the people, the national safety and happiness, and prudent policy, require it of us. * * * * * * * I conceive the constitution in this particular was formed in order that the Government, whilst it was restrained from laying a total prohibition, might be able to _give some testimony of the sense of America_, with respect to the African trade. * * * * * * It is to be hoped, that by expressing a national disapprobation of this trade, we may destroy it, and save ourselves from reproaches, AND OUR PROSPERITY THE IMBECILITY EVER ATTENDANT ON A COUNTRY FILLED WITH SLAVES.”

Mr. Gerry, of Massachusetts, said, “he highly commended the part the Society of Friends had taken; it was the cause of humanity they had interested themselves in.”–Cong. Reg. v. 1, p. 308-12.

A writer in the “Gazette of the Unites States,” Feb. 20th, 1790, (then the government paper,) who opposes the abolition of slavery, and avows himself a _slaveholder_, says, “I have seen in the papers accounts of _large associations_, and applications to Government for _the abolition of slavery_. Religion, humanity, and the generosity natural to a free people, are the _noble principles which dictate those measures_. SUCH MOTIVES COMMAND RESPECT, AND ARE ABOVE ANY EULOGIUM WORDS CAN BESTOW.”

In the convention that formed the constitution of Kentucky in 1790, the effort to prohibit slavery was nearly successful. A decided majority of that body would undoubtedly have voted for its exclusion, but for the great efforts and influence of two large slaveholders–men of commanding talents and sway–Messrs. Breckenridge and Nicholas. The following extract from a speech made in that convention by a member of it, Mr. Rice a native Virginian, is a specimen of the _free discussion_ that prevailed on that “delicate subject.” Said Mr. Rice: “I do a man greater injury, when I deprive him of his liberty, than when I deprive him of his property. It is vain for me to plead that I have the sanction of law; for this makes the injury the greater–it arms the community against him, and makes his case desperate. The owners of such slaves then are _licensed robbers_, and not the just proprietors of what they claim. Freeing them is not depriving them of property, but _restoring it to the right owner_. The master is the enemy of the slave; he _has made open war upon him_, AND IS DAILY CARRYING IT ON in unremitted efforts. Can any one imagine, then, that the slave is indebted to his master, and _bound to serve him?_ Whence can the obligation arise? What is it founded upon? What is my duty to an enemy that is carrying on war against me? I do not deny, but in some circumstances, it is the duty of the slave to serve; but it is a duty he owes himself, and not his master.”

President Edwards, the younger, said, in a sermon preached before the Connecticut Abolition Society, Sept. 15, 1791: “Thirty years ago, scarcely a man in this country thought either the slave trade or the slavery of negroes to be wrong; but now how many and able advocates in private life, in our legislatures, in Congress, have appeared, and have openly and irrefragably pleaded the rights of humanity in this as well as other instances? And if we judge of the future by the past, _within fifty years from this time, it will be as shameful for a man to hold a negro slave, as to be guilty of common robbery or theft_.”

In 1794, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church adopted its “Scripture proofs,” notes, and comments. Among these was the following:

“1 Tim. i. 10. The law is made for manstealers. This crime among the Jews exposed the perpetrators of it to capital punishment. Exodus xxi. 16. And the apostle here classes them with _sinners of the first rank_. The word he uses, in its original import comprehends all who are concerned in bringing any of the human race into slavery, or in _retaining_ them in it. _Stealers of men_ are all those who bring off slaves or freemen, and _keep_, sell, or buy them.”

In 1794, Dr. Rush declared: “Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. It prostrates every benevolent and just principle of action in the human heart. It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Saviour. It is an usurpation of the prerogative of the great Sovereign of the universe, who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men.”

In 1795, Mr. Fiske, then an officer of Dartmouth College, afterward a Judge in Tennessee, said, in an oration published that year, speaking of slaves: “I steadfastly maintain, that we must bring them to _an equal standing, in point of privileges, with the whites!_ They must enjoy all the rights belonging to human nature.”

When the petition on the abolition of the slave trade was under discussion in the Congress of ’89, Mr. Brown, of North Carolina, said, “The emancipation of the slaves _will be effected_ in time; it ought to be a gradual business, but he hoped that Congress would not _precipitate_ it to the great injury of the southern States.” Mr. Hartley, of Pennsylvania, said, in the same debate, “_He was not a little surprised to hear the cause of slavery advocated in that house_.” WASHINGTON, in a letter to Sir John Sinclair, says, “There are, in Pennsylvania, laws for the gradual abolition of slavery which neither Maryland nor Virginia have at present, but which _nothing is more certain_ than that they _must have_, and at a period NOT REMOTE.” In 1782, Virginia passed her celebrated manumission act. Within nine years from that time nearly eleven thousand slaves were voluntarily emancipated by their masters. [Judge Tucker’s “Dissertation on Slavery,” p. 72.] In 1787, Maryland passed an act legalizing manumission. Mr. Dorsey, of Maryland, in a speech in Congress, December 27th, 1826, speaking of manumissions under that act, said, that “_The progress of emancipation was astonishing_, the State became crowded with a free black population.”

The celebrated William Pinkney, in a speech before the Maryland House of Delegates, in 1789, on the emancipation of slaves, said, “Sir, by the eternal principles of natural justice, _no master in the state has a right to hold his slave in bandage for a single hour_… Are we apprehensive that these men will become more dangerous by becoming freemen? Are we alarmed, lest by being admitted into the enjoyment of civil rights, they will be inspired with a deadly enmity against the rights of others? Strange, unaccountable paradox! How much more rational would it be, to argue that the natural enemy of the privileges of a freeman, is he who is robbed of them himself!”

Hon. James Campbell, in an address before the Pennsylvania Society of Cincinnati, July 4, 1787, said, “Our separation from Great Britain has extended the empire of _humanity_. The time _is not far distant_ when our sister states, in imitation of our example, _shall turn their vassals into freemen_.” The Convention that formed the United States’ constitution being then in session, attended on the delivery of this oration with General Washington at their head.

A Baltimore paper of September 8th, 1780, contains the following notice of Major General Gates: “A few days ago passed through this town the Hon. General Gates and lady. The General, previous to leaving Virginia, summoned his numerous family of slaves about him, and amidst their tears of affection and gratitude, gave them their FREEDOM.”

In 1791, the university of William and Mary, in Virginia, conferred upon Granville Sharpe the degree of Doctor of Laws. Sharpe was at that time the acknowledged head of British abolitionists. His indefatigable exertions, prosecuted for years in the case of Somerset, procured that memorable decision in the Court of King’s Bench, which settled the principle that no slave could be held in England. He was most uncompromising in his opposition to slavery, and for twenty years previous he had spoken, written, and accomplished more against it than any man living.

In the “Memoirs of the Revolutionary War in the Southern Department,” by Gen. Lee, of Va., Commandant of the Partizan Legion, is the following: “The Constitution of the United States, adopted lately with so much difficulty, has effectually provided against this evil (by importation) after a few years. It is much to be lamented that having done so much in this way, _a provision had not been made for the gradual abolition of slavery_.”–pp. 233, 4.

Mr. Tucker, of Virginia, Judge of the Supreme Court of that state, and professor of law in the University of William and Mary, addressed a letter to the General Assembly of that state, in 1796, urging the abolition of slavery, from which the following is an extract. Speaking of the slaves in Virginia, he says: “Should we not, at the time of the revolution, have broken their fetters? Is it not our duty _to embrace the first moment_ of constitutional health and vigor to effectuate so desirable an object, and to remove from us a stigma with which our enemies will never fail to upbraid us, nor our consciences to reproach us?”

Mr. Faulkner, in a speech before the Virginia House of Delegates, Jan. 20, 1832, said: “The idea of a gradual emancipation and removal of the slaves from this commonwealth, is coeval with the declaration of our independence from the British yoke. When Virginia stood sustained in her legislation by the pure and philosophic intellect of Pendleton, by the patriotism of Mason and Lee, by the searching vigor and sagacity of Wythe, and by the all-embracing, all-comprehensive genius of Thomas Jefferson! Sir, it was a committee composed of those five illustrious men, who, in 1777, submitted to the general assembly of this state, then in session, _a plan for the gradual emancipation of the slaves of this commonwealth_.”

Hon. Benjamin Watkins Leigh, late United States’ senator from Virginia, in his letters to the people of Virginia, in 1832, signed Appomattox, p. 43, says: “I thought, till very lately, that it was known to every body that during the revolution, _and for many years after, the abolition of slavery was a favorite topic with many of our ablest statesmen_, who entertained, with respect, all the schemes which wisdom or ingenuity could suggest for accomplishing the object. Mr. Wythe, to the day of his death, _was for a simple abolition, considering the objection to color as founded in prejudice_. By degrees, all projects of the kind were abandoned. Mr. Jefferson _retained_ his opinion, and now we have these projects revived.”

Governor Barbour, of Virginia, in his speech in the U.S. Senate, on the Missouri question, Jan. 1820, said: “We are asked why has Virginia changed her policy in reference to slavery? That the sentiments of our most distinguished men, for thirty years _entirely corresponded_ with the course which the friends of the restriction (of slavery in Missouri) now advocated; and that the Virginia delegation, one of whom was the late President of the United States, voted for the restriction (of slavery) in the northwestern territory, and that Mr. Jefferson has delineated a gloomy picture of the baneful effects of slavery. When it is recollected that the Notes of Mr. Jefferson were written during the progress of the revolution, it is no matter of surprise that the writer should have imbibed a large portion of that enthusiasm which such an occasion was so well calculated to produce. As to the consent of the Virginia delegation to the restriction in question, whether the result of a disposition to restrain the slave-trade indirectly, or the influence of that enthusiasm to which I have just alluded, * * * * it is not now important to decide. We have witnessed its effects. The liberality of Virginia, or, as the result may prove, her folly, which submitted to, or, if you will, PROPOSED _this measure_ (abolition of slavery in the N.W. territory) has eventuated in effects which speak a monitory lesson. _How is the representation from this quarter on the present question_?”

Mr. Imlay, in his early history of Kentucky, p. 185, says: “We have disgraced the fair face of humanity, and trampled upon the sacred privileges of man, at the very moment that we were exclaiming against the tyranny of your (the English) ministry. But in contending for the birthright of freedom, we have learned to feel _for the bondage of others_, and in the libations we offer to the goddess of liberty, we contemplate an _emancipation of the slaves of this country_, as honorable to themselves as it will be glorious to us.”

In the debate in Congress, Jan. 20, 1806, on Mr. Sloan’s motion to lay a tax on the importation of slaves, Mr. Clark of Va. said: “He was no advocate for a system of slavery.” Mr. Marion, of S. Carolina, said: “He never had purchased, nor should he ever purchase a slave.” Mr. Southard said: “Not revenue, but an expression of the _national sentiment_ is the principal object.” Mr. Smilie–“I rejoice that the word (slave) is not in the constitution; its not being there does honor to the worthies who would not suffer it to become a _part_ of it.” Mr. Alston, of N. Carolina–“In two years we shall have the power to prohibit the trade altogether. Then this House will be unanimous. No one will object to our exercising our full constitutional powers.” National Intelligencer, Jan. 24, 1806.

These witnesses need no vouchers to entitle them to credit; nor their testimony comments to make it intelligible–their _names_ are their _endorsers_, and their strong words their own interpreters. We waive all comments. Our readers are of age. Whosoever hath ears to _hear_, let him HEAR. And whosoever will not hear the fathers of the revolution, the founders of the government, its chief magistrates, judges, legislators and sages, who dared and perilled all under the burdens, and in the heat of the day that tried men’s souls–then “neither will he be persuaded though THEY rose from the dead.”

Some of the points established by this testimony are–The universal expectation that Congress, state legislatures, seminaries of learning, churches, ministers of religion, and public sentiment widely embodied in abolition societies, would act against slavery, calling forth the moral sense of the nation, and creating a power of opinion that would abolish the system throughout the Union. In a word, that free speech and a free press would be wielded against it without ceasing and without restriction. Full well did the South know, not only that the national government would probably legislate against slavery wherever the constitution placed it within its reach, but she knew also that Congress had already marked out the line of national policy to be pursued on the subject–had committed itself before the world to a course of action against slavery, wherever she could move upon it without encountering a conflicting jurisdiction–that the nation had established by solemn ordinance a memorable precedent for subsequent action, by abolishing slavery in the northwest territory, and by declaring that it should never thenceforward exist there; and this too, as soon as by cession of Virginia and other states, the territory came under congressional control. The South knew also that the sixth article in the ordinance prohibiting slavery, was first proposed by the largest slaveholding state in the confederacy–that in the Congress of ’84, Mr. Jefferson, as chairman of the committee on the N.W. territory, reported a resolution abolishing slavery there–that the chairman of the committee that reported the ordinance of ’87 was also a slaveholder–that the ordinance was enacted by Congress during the session of the convention that formed the United States’ Constitution–that the provisions of the ordinance were, both while in prospect and when under discussion, matters of universal notoriety and _approval_ with all parties, and when finally passed, received the vote of _every member of Congress from each of the slaveholding states_. The South also had every reason for believing that the first Congress under the constitution would _ratify_ that ordinance–as it did unanimously.

A crowd of reflections, suggested by the preceding testimony, presses for utterance. The right of petition ravished and trampled by its constitutional guardians, and insult and defiance hurled in the faces of the SOVEREIGN PEOPLE while calmly remonstrating _with their_ SERVANTS for violence committed on the nation’s charter and their own dearest rights! Added to this “the right of peaceably assembling” violently wrested–the rights of minorities, _rights_ no longer–free speech struck dumb–free _men_ outlawed and murdered–free presses cast into the streets and their fragments strewed with shoutings, or flourished in triumph before the gaze of approving crowds as proud mementos of prostrate law! The spirit and power of our fathers, where are they? Their deep homage always and every where rendered to FREE THOUGHT, with its _inseparable signs–free speech and a free press_–their reverence for justice, liberty, _rights_ and all-pervading law, where are they?

But we turn from these considerations–though the times on which we have fallen, and those toward which we are borne with headlong haste, call for their discussion as with the voices of departing life–and proceed to topics relevant to the argument before us.

The seventh article of the amendments to the constitution is alleged to withhold from Congress the power to abolish slavery in the District. “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” All the slaves in the District have been “deprived of liberty” by legislative acts. Now, these legislative acts “depriving” them “of liberty,” were either “due process of law,” or they were _not_. If they _were_, then a legislative act, taking from the master that “property” which is the identical “liberty” previously taken from the slave, would be “due process of law” _also_, and of course a _constitutional_ act; but if the legislative acts “depriving” them of “liberty” were _not_ “due process of law,” then the slaves were deprived of liberty _unconstitutionally_, and these acts are _void_. In that case the _constitution emancipates them_.

If the objector reply, by saying that the import of the phrase “due process of law,” is _judicial_ process solely, it is granted, and that fact is our rejoinder; for no slave in the District _has_ been deprived of his liberty by “a judicial process,” or, in other words, by “due process of law;” consequently, upon the objector’s own admission, every slave in the District has been deprived of liberty _unconstitutionally_, and is therefore _free by the constitution_. This is asserted only of the slaves under the “exclusive legislation” of Congress.

The last clause of the article under consideration is quoted for the same purpose: “Nor shall private property he taken for public use without just compensation.” Each of the state constitutions has a clause of similar purport. The abolition of slavery in the District by Congress, would not, as we shall presently show; violate this clause either directly or by implication. Granting for argument’s sake, that slaves are “private property,” and that to emancipate them, would be to “take private property” for “public use,” the objector admits the power of Congress to do _this_, provided it will do something _else_, that is, _pay_ for them. Thus, instead of denying the _power_, the objector not only admits, but _affirms_ it, as the ground of the inference that compensation must accompany it. So far from disproving the existence of _one_ power, he asserts the existence of _two_–one, the power to take the slaves from their masters, the other, the power to take the property of the United States to pay for them.

If Congress cannot constitutionally impair the right of private property, or take it without compensation, it cannot constitutionally, _legalize_ the perpetration of such acts, by _others_, nor _protect_ those who commit them. Does the power to rob a man of his earnings, rob the earner of his _right_ to them? Who has a better right to the _product_ than the producer?–to the _interest_, than the owner of the _principal_?–to the hands and arms, than he from whose shoulders they swing?–to the body and soul, than he whose they are? Congress not only impairs but annihilates the right of private property, while it withholds from the slaves of the District their title to _themselves_. What! Congress powerless to protect a man’s right to _himself_, when it can make inviolable the right to a _dog_! But, waiving this, I deny that the abolition of slavery in the District would violate this clause. What does the clause prohibit? The “taking” of “private property” for “public use.” Suppose Congress should emancipate the slaves in the District, what would it “_take_?” Nothing. What would it _hold_? Nothing. What would it put to “public use?” Nothing. Instead of _taking_ “private property,” Congress, by abolishing slavery, would say “_private property_ shall not be taken; and those who have been robbed of it already, shall be kept out of it no longer; and every man’s right to his own body shall be protected.” True, Congress may not arbitrarily take property, _as_ property, from one man and give it to another–and in the abolition of slavery no such thing is done. A legislative act changes the _condition_ of the slave–makes him his own _proprietor_, instead of the property of another. It determines a question of _original right_ between two classes of persons–doing an act of justice to one, and restraining the other from acts of injustice; or, in other words, preventing one from robbing the other, by granting to the injured party the protection of just and equitable laws.

Congress, by an act of abolition, would change the condition of seven thousand “persons” in the District, but would “take” nothing. To construe this provision so as to enable the citizens of the District to hold as property, and in perpetuity, whatever they please, or to hold it as property in all circumstances–all necessity, public welfare, and the will and power of the government to the contrary notwithstanding–is a total perversion of its whole _intent_. The _design_ of the provision, was to throw up a barrier against Governmental aggrandizement. The right to “take property” for _State uses_ is one thing;–the right so to adjust the _tenures_ by which property is held, that _each may have his own secured to him_, is another thing, and clearly within the scope of legislation. Besides, if Congress were to “take” the slaves in the District, it would be _adopting_, not abolishing slavery–becoming a slaveholder itself, instead of requiring others to be such no longer. The clause in question, prohibits the “taking” of individual property for public use, to be employed or disposed of _as_ property for governmental purposes. Congress, by abolishing slavery in the District, would do no such thing. It would merely change the _condition_ of that which has been recognized as a qualified property by congressional acts, though previously declared “persons” by the constitution. More than this is done continually by Congress and every other Legislature. Property the most absolute and unqualified, is annihilated by legislative acts. The embargo and non-intercourse act, levelled at a stroke a forest of shipping, and sunk millions of capital. To say nothing of the power of Congress to take hundreds of millions from the people by direct taxation, who doubts its power to abolish at once the whole tariff system, change the seat of Government, arrest the progress of national works, prohibit any branch of commerce with the Indian tribes or with foreign nations, change the locality of forts, arsenals, magazines and dock yards; abolish the Post Office system, and the privilege of patents and copyrights? By such acts Congress might, in the exercise of its acknowledged powers, annihilate property to an incalculable amount, and that without becoming liable to claims for compensation.

Finally, this clause prohibits the taking for public use of “_property_.” The constitution of the United States does not recognize slaves as “PROPERTY” any where, and it does not recognize them in _any sense_ in the District of Columbia. All allusions to them in the constitution recognize them as “persons.” Every reference to them points _solely_ to the element of _personality_; and thus, by the strongest implication, declares that the constitution _knows_ them only as “persons,” and _will_ not recognize them in any other light. If they escape into free States, the constitution authorizes their being taken back. But how? Not as the property of an “owner,” but as “persons;” and the peculiarity of the expression is a marked recognition of their _personality_–a refusal to recognize them as chattels–“persons _held_ to service.” Are _oxen “held_ to service?” That can be affirmed only of _persons_. Again, slaves give political power as “persons.” The constitution, in settling the principle of representation, requires their enumeration in the census. How? As property? Then why not include race horses and game cocks? Slaves, like other inhabitants, are enumerated as “persons.” So by the constitution, the government was pledged to non-interference with “the migration or importation of such _persons_” as the States might think proper to admit until 1808, and authorized the laying of a tax on each “person” so admitted. Further, slaves are recognized as _persons_ by the exaction of their _allegiance_ to the government. For offences against the government slaves are tried as _persons_; as persons they are entitled to counsel for their defence, to the rules of evidence, and to “due process of law,” and as _persons_ they are punished. True, they are loaded with cruel disabilities in