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I esteem it a very great privilege to address this Convention.
I take you to represent the spirit of freedom and progress in Tompkins.
Sir, I am not sensible of possessing any special aptitude or qualification, to instruct you in minute political questions, which may affect your material interests. I know little of banks or tariffs, of commerce or currency. Yet, I have one great political idea, and so far as that can bear upon your political relations and duties, I am willing to present it this evening.
That idea is an old one. It is widely and generally assented to; nevertheless, it is very generally trampled upon and disregarded. - The best expression of it, I have found in the Bible. It is in substance, RIGHTEOUSNESS EXALTETH A NATION--SIN IS A REPROACH TO ANY PEOPLE.
Sir, this constitutes my politics, the negative and positive of my politics, and the whole of my politics.
I hold that nations, no more than individuals, may hope for peace and prosperity while they trample upon the sacred principles of justice, liberty, and humanity; and as a member of society, under the laws and institutions of this country, I feel it my duty to do all in my power to infuse this idea into the public mind, that it may speedily be recognized and practiced upon by our people.
Fellow-citizens, I am not an old man, nor have I had great opportunities for studying the history of this country. My sphere of observation and experience was, for more than twenty years, limited to the slave plantation.
I have been a slave, and could learn but little, when a slave, of what was going on in this country and world about me. A slave prison is worse than a States prison. In the States prison a man may know something and think something of the past; but the inmates of the slave prison know nothing of the past, present or future. Clouds and darkness overshadow them, and facts familiar to others are unknown to them.
Humble, however, as I am, and limited as is my knowledge, I must be allowed to say that, never has there been a time when the great principles of justice, liberty and humanity were put in more imminent peril than at the present moment. Never was there a time when the friends of these great principles were more loudly and imperatively called upon to stand by these principles than now.
The ruling parties of the country have now flung off all disguises, and have openly and shamelessly declared war upon the only saving principles known to nations. Their platforms, adopted at Baltimore, embrace the whole slave system, as worthy of their regard and support. To expose those platforms, and to rebuke those parties, becomes the duty of every intelligent and patriotic voter in this republic.
These parties, fellow-citizens, are now soliciting you for your votes. They want the reins of government to enable them to accomplish certain objects.
What these objects are, you are to learn from their platforms. They want power, and want you to give it to them; and in their platforms they tell you what they mean to do with power when they get it.
There is quite a gain here; for in whatever else these parties are to be condemned, they are certainly to be commended for their frankness. I repeat, they want power, and ask you to give it to them; and they have boldly and plainly told you just what use they mean to make of it when they get it. - No man who votes for General Scott or for General Pierce can so vote without knowing precisely the use to which his vote is to be put.
You all know, gentlemen, that there was an attempt, both in the Whig and in the Democratic Convention at Baltimore, to nominate candidates before adopting their platform. -- The motive for this was to leave candidates room for double dealing, and to make them independent of the platforms. But the South scouted this as a cowardly policy, and it failed. They cried out principles, not men; and that cry prevailed.
The candidates are, therefore, subject, not superior to the platforms. The candidates are after, not before the platforms. The whole matter is here in a nut shell. The candidates who have stepped upon these platforms, pledge themselves, before God and the world, to carry out the policy set forth in the platforms. There is no escape from this common sense view of the case. There is no back door here. There is no other way which men can climb. The way of entrance and the way of exit are the same.
The efforts of certain Whigs and Democrats to escape from this dilemma are very miserable. They tell us they mean to vote for the candidates of their parties, but that they repudiate the platforms. They hold the platforms to be simply the opinions of the men who voted for them in the Convention matter, it strikes a death blow at all political integrity and destroys confidence in all political creeds, and in all the men who adopt them. Honesty is the best policy even in dealing with slaveholders. Carry out this dodging doctrine, and no man voting would know to what use his vote is to be put -- what measures his vote will support, and what measures his vote will defeat. Upon this theory, the Whig slaveholders may vote for Scott, because he is on the platform, and the Whig abolitionists may vote for him because he is too good to be on the platform, and because he will cheat the South if he shall be elected. Now I hold this to be a desperate piece of political dishonesty; eating the devil, while piously repudiating his broth is no thing to this.
There is something really amusing in the evolutions of the anti-slavery Whigs who have brought themselves to vote for the Whig candidates. When we tell them that by voting for General Scott they vote for the Baltimore platform, they say not at all. We vote for the candidate, not the platform.
Now it would be quite as sensible to say we vote for the men, not their principles. -- These candidates were selected to carry out the platforms upon which they secured their nominations, and this everybody knows.
The authorship of this pro-candidates, anti-platform theory, must go to the credit of Mr. Greeley of the N. Y. Tribune -- a man whose moral convictions are always kept beyond hearing distance behind his political action. He tells us that he defies, repudiates and spits upon the Baltimore platform; that he is not bound by it, and don't mean to be. Yet he claims to be a Whig, and gives his support to the Whig candidates.
Gentlemen, I fight no shadow. Mr. Greeley is keeping back from our cause in this county thousands whose hearts are with us. Almost every man with whom I have met in your country who avows his intention to vote for Scott and Graham, does so, with a kick at the Baltimore platforms. -- They shield their in consistency under this Greeley sophistry.
It is true, sir -- this is a very shallow sophistry -- a very miserable covering; but you know a drowning man will catch at a straw. Like almost all sophistry, its effect is produced by a skilful substitution of a false for the real issue. It calls attention from the vote to the state of mind of the voter, from his pro-slavery vote to his anti-slavery character, from his actions to his professions.
Now, we who call ourselves of the Free Democracy do not deny that the Whig platform ought to be defied and spit upon. That is our doctrine exactly. We not only think so, believe so, and feel so, but we are prepared to act so.
We do not deny that Mr. Greeley and other anti-slavery Whigs, think, believe and feel as we do. They spit, repudiate and defy; but that does not meet the case. The question is not whether they thus spit and defy; but does this spit and defiance go along with their vote, or does it, like spit to the windward, come straight back in their faces?
We know you hate your platform in your hearts; but we complain that you do not in your votes. You love liberty and vote against it. You hate slavery and the fugitive slave act, and then vote for the twin abominations. When we condemn your votes, you vindicate your opinions; when we assail your deeds, you defend your motives. Is this honest? Is it manly?
What matter is it to the man in chains, whether his chains are voted on by an anti-slavery or by a pro-slavery man, by a Christian or by an infidel? It is not the motives nor the opinions of the voter, but it is the vote that either rivets or breaks his fetters.
It does seem strange that men can be found who can act so inconsistently.
The candidates of the two great parties have accepted their nominations, understandingly and distinctly. And these nominations have not been more distinctly and understandingly accepted than have the platforms; both came from the same bodies, and were presented at the same time, and accepted at the same time. There can be no mistake about it.
Now, for these candidates to allow themselves to be voted for while on these platforms, and then turn round after getting into power and violate the principles and measures set forth in them, would be nothing less than political treachery of the basest kind.
General Scott might well say of that class, save me from my friends; for just in proportion to the success of Mr. Greeley at the North, must be General Scott's unpopularity at the South.
Sir, I leave this miserable paper castle to be disposed of by that Hale storm which is beginning to show itself in the political firmament. With the remark, that considering how much the Whig party North has had to complain of in the way of treachery, bad luck and the like; how much Mr. Greeley belabored the unfortunate accidental President eleven years ago, for treachery to Whig principles and Whig measures; it does seem that this spit and repudiation theory should have emanated from another quarter than the Whig party, and from another pen than that of Horace Greeley. Whig principles and obligations were quite loose enough before this shock. Whiggery cannot stand much more. I apprehend that this one will kill it, at least in the South, where it has heretofore had little better than a name to live.
But we are asked by the Whig and Democratic parties to give them power. What they want with power they have frankly told us.
The question is, can we innocently and wisely give them our votes, and secure to them the reins of government which they crave? Ought we to vote for them, or ought we to vote against them, is the question? -- Let us see. There is, in this country, a system of injustice and cruelty, shocking to every sentiment of humanity -- a crime and scandal, making this country a hissing and a bye-word to the world, and liable to the judgements of a righteous God.
This stupendous iniquity, this giant crime, this murderous system is, Slavery.
There is nothing to which we can liken it. It is barbarous, monstrous, and bloody. -- Crushed beneath this most horrible institution, are three millions of our countrymen. These are subject to the terrible inflictions of the fetter, the lash, and the chain. These suffering men and women have been held, and are now held, to gratify the pride, to indulge the indolence, to minister to the lust and pleasure of three hundred thousand slaveholders.
For a long time, these slaveholders have, with greater or less completeness, ruled this nation. They have had the lion's share in all the honors and emoluments of office. -- They govern the state in which they live. -- They monopolize all state offices, unless it be the office of negro-whipper. This they are willing to have Northern ruffians to do for them. It is next to impossible for any man in the Southern States, not a slaveholder, to get into any respectable office above that of a constable or a negro-driver.
In South Carolina, a man who is not able to own ten slaves cannot be a member of the Legislature. He may be, in every respect, qualified as a legislator, a sober, honest, intelligent and patriotic man; but if the blood of his brother man be not in his skirts, he is, by law, disqualified to legislate in South Carolina.
What is law in South Carolina, is custom in nearly all the slave states of this Union.
The slaveholders gather up the reins of the government, and pocket the rewards of office, to the exclusion and degradation of the honest and industrious free white man of the South. The thirst of the slaveholder for power is insatiable. The more they get, the more they want. Every concession is followed by a new and still more unreasonable demand. To comply with one demand, is only to pave the way to a new exaction. - The history of this country shows that between freedom and slavery there has been a constant systematic effort on the part of the latter to extinguish and destroy the former. The struggle has been long and fierce, and the combatants are still in the field.
It may be well, in this connection, to call to mind a few facts in the history of this struggle, and to take a general view of the different phases of the slave power.
Daniel Webster said at Springfield, Mass., that nations, not less than individuals, do well to pause at certain periods, and survey the past, examine the present, and, in the light of these, contemplate the future. This is but one of many sage suggestions from the same quarter. What of the right? -- Whether are we tending? Is the ship of State sound, tight and free? or is she leaky and liable to sink? Are we out of danger? or are we in the midst of sharp and flinty rocks? Are we advancing? or are we retrograding? These questions concern every American citizen.
The Slavery power has aimed at two objects from the beginning. First, to acquire a wide and fertile territory; second, to control the government. It needs endless, limitless fields over which to pour its poisonous and blasting influence. Its province is not to replenish, but to wear out the earth. Its course is like that of the locusts of Egypt; ruin and desolation are in its track.
The virgin soil of Virginia, once the most fertile, inviting and beautiful, is now spread out like a withered branch on the Republic, cursed and blighted by slavery. Whole villages, once thronged with people are now deserted, and crumbling in ruins.
North Carolina is rapidly going to decay; and all the older slave states are witnesses to the ruinous influence of slavery. The contrast between Kentucky and Ohio is familiar to you all; and the causes of that contrast are known to every intelligent American. -- Cassius M. Clay, himself a Kentuckian, has unfolded these causes, and demonstrated, beyond all question that emancipation tomorrow, so far from making his native state poorer, would on the very instant make that State richer. Yet, there she lies, in the ruinous embrace of Slavery, venting her curses and repinings over the prosperity, progress and intelligence of her neighboring sister. Her children, instead of remaining with her, making all her hills, valleys, and plains cheerful, are straying away into the limitless Southwest, to plant, only to poison the virgin soil, with slavery. As with the slaveholders of Kentucky, so with the slaveholders of all the older slave states.
When I was a boy, the most dreaded doom to which a slave could be subjected, was that of being sold to Georgia. That was our Southern slave market thirty years ago. Since then, the surplus increase of human stock has demanded new outlets and new markets. Virginia has asked for fresh markets for her human produce; and the North has consented and conceded the request. -- We are starving, said Virginia. Our negroes are swarming around us, and are literally eating us out of house and home. We must have relief. We must have a market for human flesh, or we are ruined. We have sometimes been told that Virginia was moving for the abolition of slavery; but that the injudicious course of Northern abolitionists has put back the cause in that State, and defeated the benevolent designs of Virginia in this matter.
I am persuaded that this statement is far from the truth. The real cause for the defeat of the anti-slavery movement in Virginia is found in the fact that Northern pro-slavery men have, whenever slave property has decreased in value, opened new markets for human flesh, and raised its price. Thus, when slavery was dying from its utter unprofitableness, new life and vigor have been imparted to its expiring frame by Northern men and by Northern votes.
The purchase of Louisiana, the annexation of Texas, the war with the Seminoles, and the war with Mexico, were all measures commenced and carried on for the purpose of giving prosperity and perpetuity to slavery, and for maintaining the sway of the slave power over the republic. Any man who doubts this, has only to read "Jay's view of the action of the federal government," and his "Review of the Mexican war," to have his doubts entirely removed.
Gentlemen, let us inquire, What was the state of the anti-slavery question four years ago? I mean in its political aspects. Fourteen legislatures had solemnly instructed their representatives in Congress to vote for the Wilmot Proviso.
Innumerable political conventions throughout the North had declared in favor of excluding slavery from the newly acquired territories from Mexico. This policy had the support of leading men of the North. Daniel Webster had declared his unalterable determination to oppose the farther extension of slavery. Whigs and Democrats vied with each other in professions of hostility to the slavery propagandism of the ultra-slave holding politicians of the South. This sentiment became so strong that a powerful party was organized, solemnly pledging itself to "fight on and fight ever" against slavery, and the ascendency of the slave power in the councils of the nation. The agitation in this direction was general and wide spread. The North was in flame. The eloquence of the Stantons, the Van Burens, the Butlers, the Kings, roused the Northern feeling, and excited intense and burning enthusiasm among the people. No more Slave States, No more Slave Territory, Free States, Free Men, and Free Territory, leaped joyously from Northern lips, of all parties and creeds. The movement appeared formidable. The South became alarmed, and it was evident that leading men at the South felt that their crafty wisdom was about to be confounded, and their counsels brought to nought. They changed their aggressive tactics for a defensive attitude. They declared that Congress had no right to decide what should be the character of the institutions established in the territories, and that that question should be left to the territories themselves.
Such, gentlemen, was the state of this question four years ago. The cause of freedom looked auspicious. For the first time in the political history of this nation there did appear a strong likelihood that the people and the politicians in the North would remain firm and unyielding; that they would withstand the shock of Southern aggression with manly courage; and that freedom would come off victorious.
But, alas! Northern integrity and spirit were no match for the dogged persistence, seductive blandishments, and bribery of the South. The slaveholders entirely outgeneralled the men of the North at the very outset of the winter of '49, with a boldness creditable to their sagacity. The slaveholding members of Congress, under the lead of Mr. Calhoun, organized themselves into a sort of Congress of their own, and marked out the kind of legislation which the legitimate Congress should adopt, and threatened that direful consequences would ensue if Congress should, in its wisdom, disregard the views and opinions held by them, the slaveholders. We all remember how this movement operated. The cry of Danger to the Union was raised. FOOTE, the fire-eater and hangman, led the American Senate in this cry. He was followed by the late Mr. Clay, who boldly assailed the policy of Gen. Taylor, and drew vivid pictures of "dismal terror and dire confusion," of "disunion," and civil war. Cass followed in the same course. Douglas, with characteristic wariness, encouraged the idea that something really terrible was at hand. He, of course, was for concession; everything was to be done to save the Union.
Gentlemen, the trick worked admirably. -- Man after man gave in his adhesion, to the cry of Danger to the Union. Papers of all parties flamed with it; and the land was filled with dread and apprehension.
Still, gentlemen, there was hope. The great Expounder had not spoken. He stood before the country openly and strongly committed to the principles of the Free Soil party; and he was known in private to have encouraged the young Whigs of New England to stand by the principle of the ordinance of '87. But to the disappointment and mortification of all who had confidence in him, Daniel Webster fell; and "what a fall was there, my countrymen!"
"Then I, and you, and all of us fell down, And bloody
treason flourished o'er us."
The North stood appalled and paralized, deserted, abandoned, and betrayed -- cowed and bowed down under the proud domination and impudence of the lords of the lash. Such was the state of this question after the seventh of March, '50. The slaveholders waxed bolder every hour; and the men of the North humbler. There was now no doubt that the South could get its most extravagant demands complied with.
Texas, that most powerful and warlike State, wanted ten millions of money. She only had to threaten that she would whip the United States, to get every dollar of it. I am only surprised that she did not ask for twenty millions, instead of ten. She might have got it easily. I drop this glance at the past. It is a sickening theme. I have alluded to it with a view to refresh your memories, and to awaken that indignation which it is fitted to inspire.
I come now to the more immediate question before us. I presume I speak to some men who have not made up their minds as to who they shall vote for in the coming election; and that they are candidly considering that question. To them I would speak.
There are now three parties in the field--the Whig, the Democratic and the Free Democratic party.
The two large parties are now, if they were not before, united on the only great question which really and seriously divided the country.
Old differences have subsided; old issues have been laid aside.
The only question about which there seems a division of opinion, respects the matter of river and harbor improvements; and here the difference is seeming, rather than real.
The Whigs are in favor of making constitutional appropriations for this purpose; and the Democrats are opposed to unconstitutional appropriations. So that there is, after all, no direct issue -- no great principle in the matter of public policy which divides them.
The struggle seems purely one of men, which men shall have the dispensing of power and place the next four years. Here, there is a strong division, and the contrast is warm. But what are the measures, sentiments, and principles which both parties ask you to support?
This question is important. I will answer it in my homely way. They ask you to give them power to make the compromise measures of 1850 a final settlement of the slavery question. The resolutions on this point stand at the head of many of their papers, as the corner-stone of those parties.
The first objection, and a very important one to these platforms, is the idea that human enactments may be "final" in this country; that one generation may tie the hands of another; that the darkness of the past shall be preferred to the light of the present; that like the laws of the Medes and Persians, the laws of the Republic shall remain unchanged. I say that this is an idea that every American citizen is bound to oppose. It strikes a deadly blow at the spirit and the hope of progress; and reduces the growing limbs of the Republic to cramping cast-iron moulds. The thing is unnatural, and no more to be countenanced in this country, than iron shoes for the feet of American women.
Besides, if one law can be put beyond the reach of future generations, all laws may; and one generation may not only enjoy the right of making laws for themselves, but do up the legislation for all generations to come.
Now, I think that one legislature ought to be satisfied with making such laws as it in its wisdom or its folly may determine, without reaching its death fingers into the living future and controlling future legislatures.
The next thing they ask you to do, is to authorize them to admit unnumbered States into the Union, with slavery. You are to bind yourselves, that when one of these States ask admission into this Union, you will not raise the question of the wisdom or the wickedness of admitting another slave-cursed member into this Republic. There is no fiction here. Those States are to be admitted with or without slavery. But everybody knows that the "without" means nothing, and meant nothing at the time.
Hon. Horace Mann, in a speech of surpassing power and eloquence, has shown that slavery already exists in New Mexico. It has been long known that slaveholders design to force the slave system upon Utah. -- In this they may not succeed; but the question of success or failure depends upon you.
The votes of the North are to decide the case. Should there be a strong vote for Hale and Julian, slavery will be checked. -- Northern men will be made to feel there is a North. Otherwise, slavery may run rampant.
Again; the Whig Party and the Democratic Party ask you for power; the one to discountenance, and the other to resist agitation; or in other words, to discountenance and resist the exercise of the right of speech. These parties express themselves with great emphasis on this point, leaving no doubt of the importance which they attach to this particular item of their creed.
The Whigs mean to discountenance, and the Democrats mean to resist agitation. -- They are going to do so whenever and wherever the evil may appear, whether in Congress or out of Congress, they will discountenance and resist.
Here, then, is a deliberate, open, and decided attempt to discourage and fetter the constitutional and natural right of speech. -- Whigs and Democrats, in their party and organized capacity, have resolved to discourage and resist agitation at all times, in all places, in Congress or out of Congress.
We are bound to regard this declaration on their part, not merely as a vague sentiment, but one which may be incorporated into the legislation of this country. It appears in their political platforms, and is presented with other objects to be accomplished by the parties adopting them. If these parties mean anything more than mere bravado, they mean to make their discountenance and resistance a reality, even to the extent of suppressing agitation by law, making it penal to discuss the question of slavery.
This right of speech is very dear to the hearts of intelligent lovers of liberty. It is the delight of the lovers of liberty, as it is the dread and terror of tyrants.
Why, then, have these two great parties arrayed themselves against its exercise? -- Why have they imitated the crowned heads of the old world in waring upon it?
The answer is, we have got in this country a system of wickedness which cannot bear the light of free discussion. We have here 3,000,000 of God's children bound in chains, and who are murderously robbed of all their dearest rights; and to save their atrocious system from the execration of the American people, these parties have openly declared it to be their purpose to abridge the right of speech. The purpose, and the means to accomplish it, are alike worthy of each other. To chain the slave, these parties have said we must fetter the free! To make tyranny safe, we must endanger the liberties of the nation, by destroying the paladium of all liberty and progress -- the freedom of speech.
It is idle and short-sighted to regard this question as merely relating to the liberties of the colored people of this country. The wrong proposed to be done touches every man.
If, to-day, these parties can put down the right of speech on one subject, to-morrow they may do so on another. If they can prohibit the discussion of the rights of black men, they may also, bye and bye, prohibit the discussion of the rights of white men. -- "Liberty for all, or chains for all."
Daniel Webster said, in his earlier and better days:
"Important as I deem it, to discuss on all proper occasions the policy of the measures at present pursued it is still more important to maintain the right of such discussion in its full and just extent. Sentiments lately sprung up, and now growing fashionable, make it necessary to be explicit on this point. The more I perceive a disposition to check the freedom of inquiry, by extravagant and unconstitutional pretenses the firmer shall be the tone, and the freeer the manner in which I shall exercise it. -- It is the ancient and the undoubted prerogative of the people to canvass public measures, and the merits of public men. It is "a home-bred right," a fire-side privilege. It hath ever been enjoyed in every house, cottage, and hamlet in the nation. It is not to be drawn into the controversy. It is as undoubted as the right of breathing the air, or walking on the earth. Belonging to private life as a right, it belongs to public life as a duty; and it is the last duty which those whose representative I am shall find me to abandon. Aiming at all times to be courteous and temperate in its use, except when the right itself shall be questioned, I shall then carry it to its extent. I shall place myself on the extreme boundary of my rights, and bid defiance to any arm that would move me from my ground. -- This high constitutional privilege I shall defend and exercise within this house, and without this house, in all places, in time of peace, in time of war, and at all times. Living, I shall assert it; dying, I shall assert it, and should I leave no other inheritance to my children, by the blessing of God I will still leave them the inheritance of free principles, and the example of a manly, independent, and conscientious discharge of them."
Now it is just this "high constitutional right" which you are called upon by the Whig and Democratic parties to crush. Slavery is so false, unnatural, brutal, and shocking, that it won't bear the light of discussion; and, therefore, discussion must be put down. The system is like Lord Grandy's character: it can only "pass without censure, as it passeth without observation;" and, therefore, the nation must be blindfolded. -- Its lips must be padlocked; and you, fellow-citizens, are called upon to aid by your votes this blindfolding and padlocking system.
And this is to be done, fellow-citizens, to give peace to slaveholders. These parties have attempted to do what God has declared impossible to be done. "There can be no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."
Suppose it were possible to put down the free speech, what would it avail the guilty slaveholder? Pillowed as he is upon the bosoms of ruined souls, he would still be troubled. If the tongue of every abolitionist were cut out, and every pamphlet and periodical treating of slavery were carried to Washington and burnt in the presence of the assembled nation, and the whole history of the abolition movement were blotted out, still the guilty slaveholder could have "no peace;" bubbling up from the depths of his sin-darkened soul, would come the terrible accusation, "Thou art verily guilty concerning thy brother."
It would be easy to enlarge on this point, but I must pass on. They ask you to give them power to violate the constitution and to make that violation "final." The constitution of the United States declares that, in suits where the amount in controversy exceeds twenty dollars in value, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved; and that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
Now, the Fugitive Slave Act notoriously violates both these provisions at once. It scouts the idea of a trial by jury. Instead of "due process," it gives a summary process, and that most scandalously destitute of all show of justice. The judge is bound to hear only one side of the case. The oath of any two villains may consign an American citizen to the hell of slavery for life under this Fugitive Slave Act.
A man may not throw the noose of a rope over the horns of an ox without having his right to do so submitted to a jury; but he may seize, bind and chain a man -- a being whose value is beyond all computation, and doom him to life-long bondage by a summary process. Thus, the beast of burden is more sacred in the eye of the law, than is the image of God! Thus, the right of man to himself is deemed of less consequence than the right of man to a brute. Man's dearest interests may be passed upon by a single judge; but the ownership to an ASS must be determined by a jury of twelve impartial men!
Just this monstrous anomaly the Whig and the Democratic parties ask the aid of your votes to make final.
Once more. It has ever been deemed a thing of immense importance among free governments, that the judicial power be placed above every temptation to make corrupt and unjust decisions. The founders of this government had this point distinctly and constantly in view.
To place the judicial officers of this government beyond the possibility of corruption, they inserted these plain and wisely arranged words in the federal constitution: "The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall receive for their service a compensation which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office." The Fugitive Slave Act violates both in spirit and letter. The judges created under it are supported by, not by a regular salary, but are supported by their fees. Their support depends upon the number of cases which they can get before them. They are not only to try cases; but to get cases to try. They are made to feel a direct and personal interest in getting cases before them. They are tempted to engage in setting nets for the feet of their fellow-men; and when they have caught one, they try him, and get the coveted fee.
Let it not be said that honorable men would not do this mean thing. An honorable man would not hold such an office. The work to be done is a work for scoundrels; and scoundrels will be found to do it.
But a still darker shade. This "slave act," and slave-acting judges, are paid ten dollars for every man they decide to be a slave; and only five dollars when they fail to do so. An honorable man would have his right hand cut off before he would sit as a judge under such a disgusting bribe. Yet this horrid law is "final!" Fellow-citizens, there was a time when it was quite common to hear it asked, "what have we to do with slavery?" It was affirmed that slavery is a local institution, with which we of the North have nothing to do.
The Fugitive Slave Law has taken away this excuse. Slavery is no longer "sectional," (if it ever were,) but "national" -- no longer a mere State institution, but a United States institution. If it never was before, it is now an American institution, to be maintained by all the powers of the American government.
Within the limits of the American government, slavery knows no limits. Wherever the star-spangled banner waves, there may men hold men as slaves.
There is not one spot in the Republic sacred to freedom; but every inch of soil is given up to slavery, slave-hunting, slave-catching, and slaveholding.
Our citizens are compelled to fly from a Republic to a Monarchy for liberty. They fly to the paw of the British Lion for protection from the devouring talons and bloody beak of the American Eagle.
"Hail Columbia! Happy land!"
The Israelites had their cities of refuge, to which even the guilty might escape; but our model Republic, under the corrupt and debasing policy of our two parties, has not even a refuge for innocent men. The murderer is better protected than the man without crime. The robber is better protected than the robbed. And this is to be "final."
Gentlemen, I call attention to a matter of still deeper concern. You, yourselves; you -- fathers, sons, and brothers, freemen of the North -- are compelled, by this "final" act, to throw off the dignity of manhood, and become bloodhounds; to scent out, and hunt down your fellow-men!
This is the Whig and Democratic entertainment, to which you are invited. You are to leave off your honest and honorable employment when you are called upon by the blood-thirsty man-hunters to join in the chase. You are commanded, as good citizens, to do this; and subjected to pains and penalties if you do it not. You are commanded to bound forth at the sound of the hunter's horn.
Are you prepared for this dignified avocation? I will not believe it; yet this constitutes a part of the "finality" which the Whig and Democratic party stand pledged to maintain, and to maintain which they ask your votes in November.
In conclusion, I will present what I deem to be the greatest objection to voting for the candidates of the old parties. It is this:-- The system of measures which they have pledged themselves to regard as a "final settlement" of the slavery question, aim a death-blow to Christian, religious liberty. A more deliberate or skillfully aimed blow was never given against Christianity, than is found in this fugitive slave act. I have shown that the law is opposed to the Constitution. It would be quite as easy to show that it is contrary to the gospel, and to the spirit and aim of Christianity. It is true that this law does not interfere with the forms and ceremonies of the Christian religion. It is, however, much worse; in that it is directed against the fundamental principles of Christianity. It strikes at the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith.
Christianity commands us, as we would inherit eternal life, to "feed the hungry," clothe the naked, and take in the stranger. This law makes it penal to obey Christ. In the language of Wm. Lloyd Garrison, "we are asked by these political parties to damn our own souls."
Again; it would be impossible to point out a more glaring contempt of the religious sentiment of the religious people of this country, than is furnished in these two platforms. They virtually say to the Christian people of this country, we regard your conscience as mere convenience; your religion as a sham; your faith in God, and love of Christ as things having no connection with your daily practice; and, therefore, not to be considered in connection with your political duties.
Now, I think, Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen, that it becomes the Christian duty of the people of this country to rebuke the contemptuous disregard of Christianity by our political organizations. Whether they will do so or not, remains to be seen. But, in any event, sir, I trust that this Convention has thoroughly made up its mind to go in and come out of the contest with clean hands.
Source: Frederick Douglass' Paper, October 22, 1852. Proofed by Rebecca Tippins, Department of History, Furman University. Proofed by Ryan Stone.
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