Saturday, February 4, 2017

Edward Everett to William Cullen Bryant, January 4, 1865

boston, January 4th

I have this day received your favor of the 2d, with an enclosed printed paper, to which my signature is requested, to be “immediately” returned. I should have preferred a little time for reflection on a proposal of so much gravity, and it would be presumptuous in me to decide off-hand that a law might not by possibility be framed in the present state of the country by which slavery should be constitutionally prohibited by Congress. I must own, however, that I do not find in the Constitution (from which alone Congress derives not only its powers but its existence) any authority for such a purpose. If this view is correct (and I am not aware that it has ever been contested by any party), the passage of a law like that proposed would be the inauguration of a new revolution; that is, the assumption of powers of the widest scope, confessedly not conferred by the frame of government under which we live. The legislation to which General Washington referred, in his letter of 1786, quoted in the printed paper, was, of course, State legislation. So was that of Pennsylvania, so justly commended in the paper. I would fear that an attempt like that prayed for would not only render more difficult the adoption of the constitutional amendment now pending, but throw obstacles in the way of the prohibition of slavery now in rapid progress under State authority, with reference to which there is no doubt.*

* This letter was among the last Mr. Everett wrote; eleven days after the date of it he died ; and Mr. Bryant, though he had been no admirer of his earlier political course, paid handsome tributes to his memory in speeches before the New York Historical Society and the Union League Club. (a)

(a) See “Orations and Addresses.” D. Appleton & Co.

SOURCE: Parke Godwin, A Biography of William Cullen Bryant, Volume 1, p. 224

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