Mr. President, — If we look hastily at the present aspect of American affairs, there is much to discourage a man who believes in the progress of his race. In this republic, with the Declaration of Independence for its political creed, neither of the great political parties is hostile to the existence of slavery. That institution has the continual support of both the Whig and Democratic parties. There are now four eminent men in the Senate of the United States, all of them friends of slavery. Two of these are from the North, both natives of New England; but they surpass their Southern rivals in the zeal with which they defend that institution, and in the concessions which they demand of the friends of justice at the North. These four men are all competitors for the Presidency. Not one of them is the friend of freedom; he that is apparently least its foe, is Mr Benton, the senator from Missouri. Mr Clay, of Kentucky, is less effectually the advocate of slavery than Mr Webster, of Massachusetts. Mr Webster himself has said, “There is no North,” and, to prove it experimentally, stands there as one mighty instance of his own rule.
In the Senate of the United States, only Seward and Chase and Hale can be relied on as hostile to slavery. In the House, there are Root and Giddings, and Wilmot and Mann, and a few others. “But what are these among so many?”
See “how it strikes a stranger.” Here is an extract from the letter of a distinguished and learned man,1 sent out here by the king of Sweden to examine our public schools: “I have just returned from Washington, where I have been witnessing the singular spectacle of this free and enlightened nation being buried in sorrow, on account of the death of that great advocate of slavery, Mr Calhoun. Mr Webster's speech seems to have made a very strong impression upon the people of the South, as I have heard it repeated almost as a lesson of the catechism by every person I have met within the slave territory. It seems now to be an established belief, that slavery is not a malum necessarium, still less an evil difficult to get rid of, but desirable soon to get rid of. No, far from that; it seems to be considered as quite a natural, most happy, and essentially Christian institution!”
Not satisfied with keeping an institution which the more Christian religion of the Mohammedan Bey of Tunis has rejected as a “sin against God,” we seek to extend it, to perpetuate it, even on soil which the half-civilized Mexicans made clear from its pollutions. The great organs of the party politics of the land are in favour of the extension; the great political men of the land seek to extend it; the leading men in the large mercantile towns of the North — in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia—are also in favour of extending slavery. All this is plain.
But, sir, as I come up here to this Convention year after year, I find some signs of encouragement. Even in the present state of things, the star of hope appears, and we may safely and reasonably say, “Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed” in anti-slavery. Let us look a little at the condition of America at this moment, to see what there is to help or what to hinder us. First, I will speak of the present crisis in our affairs; then of the political parties amongst us; then of the manner in which this crisis is met; next of the foes of freedom; and last, of its friends. I will speak with all coolness, and try to speak short. By the middle of the anniversary week, men get a little heated; I am sure I shall be cool, and I think I may also be dull.
There must be unity of action in a nation, as well as in a man, or there cannot be harmony and welfare. As a man “cannot serve two masters” antagonistic and diametrically opposed to one another, as God and Mammon, no more can a nation serve two opposite principles at the same time.
Now, there are two opposite and conflicting principles recognized in the political action of America: at this moment, they contend for the mastery, each striving to destroy the other.
There is what I call the American idea. I so name it, because it seems to me to lie at the basis of all our truly original, distinctive, and American institutions. It is itself a complex idea, composed of three subordinate and more simple ideas, namely: The idea that all men have unalienable rights; that in respect thereof, all men are created equal; and that government is to be established and sustained for the purpose of giving every man an opportunity for the enjoyment and development of all these unalienable rights. This idea demands, as the' proximate organization thereof, a democracy, that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness’ sake, I will call it the idea of freedom.
That is one idea; and the other is, that one man has a right to hold another man in thraldom, not for the slave's good, but for the master's convenience; not on account of any wrong the slave has done or intended, but solely for the benefit of the master. This idea is not peculiarly American. For shortness' sake, I will call this the idea of slavery. It demands for its proximate organization, an aristocracy, that is, a government of all the people by a part of the people — the masters; for a part of the people — the masters; against a part of the people — the slaves; a government contrary to the principles of eternal justice, contrary to the unchanging law of God. These two ideas are hostile, irreconcilably hostile, and can no more be compromised and made to coalesce in the life of this nation, than the worship of the real God and the worship of the imaginary devil can be combined and made to coalesce in the life of a single man. An attempt has been made to reconcile and unite the two. The slavery clauses of the Constitution of the United States is one monument of this attempt; the results of this attempt — you see what they are, not order, but confusion.
We cannot have any settled and lasting harmony until one or the other of these ideas is cast out of the councils of the nation: so there must be war between them before there can be peace. Hitherto, the nation has not been clearly aware of the existence of these two adverse principles; or, if aware of their existence, has thought little of their irreconcilable diversity. At the present time, this fact is brought home to our consciousness with great clearness. On the one hand, the friends of freedom set forth the idea of freedom, clearly and distinctly, demanding liberty for each man. This has been done as never before. Even in the Senate of the United States it has been done, and repeatedly during the present session of Congress. On the other hand, the enemies of freedom set forth the idea of slavery as this has not been done in other countries for a long time. Slavery has not been so lauded in any legislative body for many a year, as in the American Senate in 1850. Some of the discussions remind one of the spirit which prevailed in the Roman Senate, A. D. 62, when about four hundred slaves were crucified, because their master, Pedanius Secundus, a man of consular dignity, was found murdered in his bed. I mean to say, the same disregard of the welfare of the slaves, the same willingness to sacrifice them — if not their lives, which are not now at peril, at least their welfare, to the convenience of their masters. Anybody can read the story in Tacitus,2 and it is worth reading, and instructive, too, at these times.
Here are some of the statements relative to slavery made in the thirty-first Congress of the United States. Hearken to the testimony of the Hon. Mr Badger, of North Carolina:
“It is clear that this institution [slavery] not only was not disapproved of, but was expressly recognized, approved, and its continuance sanctioned by the divine lawgiver of the Jews.”
“Whether an evil or not, it is not a sin; it is not a violation of the divine law.
“What treatment did it receive from the founder of the gospel dispensation? It was approved, first negatively, because, in the whole New Testament, there is not to be found one single word, either spoken by the Saviour, or by any of the evangelists or apostles, in which that institution is either directly or indirectly condemned; and also affirmatively.” This he endeavours to show, by quoting the passages from St Paul, usually quoted for that purpose. “Nothing would be easier than for St Paul to have said — ‘Slaves, be obedient to your heathen masters; but I say to you, feeling masters, emancipate your slaves; the law of Christ is against that relation, and you are bound, therefore, to set them at liberty.’ No such word is spoken.”
Thus far goes the Hon. Senator Badger, of North Carolina.
Mr Brown, of Mississippi, goes further yet. He knows what some men think of slavery, and tells them, “Very well, think so; but keep your thoughts to yourselves.” He is not content with bidding the “freest and most enlightened nation in the world,” be silent on this matter: he is not content, with Mr Badger, to declare that if an evil, it is not a sin, and to find it upheld in the Old Testament, and allowed in the New Testament; he tells us that he “regards slavery as a great moral, social, political, and religious blessing — a blessing to the slave, and a blessing to the master.”
Thus, the issue is fairly made between the two principles. The contradiction is plain. The battle between the two is open, and in sight of the world.
But this is not the first time there has been a quarrel between the idea of slavery and the idea of freedom in America. The quarrel has lasted, with an occasional truce, for more than sixty years. In six battles, slavery has been victorious over freedom.
1. In the adoption of the Constitution supporting slavery.
2. In the acquisition of Louisiana as slave territory.
3. In the acquisition of Florida as slave territory.
4. In making the Missouri Compromise.
5. In the annexation of Texas as a slave State.
6. In the Mexican war — a war mean and wicked, even amongst wars.
Since the Revolution, there have been three instances of great national importance, in which freedom has overcome slavery; there have been three victories:
1. In prohibiting slavery from the North-west territory, before the adoption of the Constitution.
2. In prohibiting the slave-trade in 1808. I mean, in prohibiting the African slave-trade; the American slave-trade is still carried on in the capital of the United States.
3. The prohibition of slavery in Oregon may be regarded as a third victory, though not apparently of so much consequence as the others.
Now comes another battle, and it remains to be decided whether the idea of slavery or the idea of freedom is to prevail in the territory we have conquered and stolen from Mexico. The present strife is to settle that question. Now, as before, it is a battle between freedom and slavery; one on which the material and spiritual welfare of millions of men depends; but now the difference between freedom and slavery is more clearly seen than in 1787; the consequences of each are better understood, and the sin of slavery is felt and acknowledged by a class of persons who had few representatives sixty years ago. It is a much greater triumph for slavery to prevail now, and carry its institutions into New Mexico in 1850, than it was to pass the pro-slavery provisions of the Constitution in 1787. It will be a greater sin now to extend slavery, than it was to establish it in 1620, when slaves were first brought to Virginia.
Ever since the adoption of the Constitution, protected by that shield, mastering the energies of the nation, and fighting with that weapon, slavery has been continually aggressive. The slave-driver has coveted new soil; has claimed it; has had his claim allowed. Louisiana, Florida, Texas, California, and New Mexico are the results of Southern aggression. Now the slave-driver reaches out his hand towards Cuba, trying to clutch that emerald gem set in the tropic sea. How easy it was to surrender to Great Britian portions of the Oregon Territory in a high Northern latitude! Had it been South of 36° 30', it would not have been so easy to settle the Oregon question by a compromise. So when we make a compromise there, “the reciprocity must be all on one side.”
Let us next look at the position of the political parties with respect to the present crisis. There are now four political parties in the land.
1. There is the Government party, represented by the President, and portions of his Cabinet, if not the whole of it. This party does not attempt to meet the question which comes up, but to dodge and avoid it. Shall freedom or slavery prevail in the new territory? is the question. The Government has no opinion; it will leave the matter to be settled by the people of the territory. This party wishes California to come into the Union without slavery, for it is her own desire so to come; and does not wish a territorial government to be formed by Congress in New Mexico, but to leave the people there to form a State, excluding or establishing slavery as they see fit. The motto of this party is inaction, not intervention. King James I. once proposed a question to the judges of England. They declined to answer it, and the king said, "If ye give no counsel, then why be ye counsellors?" The people of the United States might ask the Government, "If ye give us no leading, then why be ye leaders?” This party is not hostile to slavery; not opposed to its extension.
2. Then there is the Whig party. This party has one distinctive idea; the idea of a tariff for protection; whether for the protection of American labour, or merely American capital, I will not now stop to inquire. The Whig party is no more opposed to slavery, or its extension, than the Government party itself.
However, there are two divisions of the Whigs, the Whig party South, and the Whig party North. The two agree in their ideas of protection, and their pro-slavery character. But the Whig party South advocates slavery and protection; the Whig party North, protection and slavery.
In the North there are many Whigs who are opposed to slavery, especially to the extension of slavery; there are also many other persons, not of the Whig party, opposed to the extension of slavery; therefore in the late electioneering campaign, to secure the votes of these persons, it was necessary for the Whig party North to make profession of anti-slavery. This was done accordingly, in a general form, and in special an attempt was made to show that the Whig party was opposed to the extension of slavery.
Hear what Senator Chase says on this point. I read from his speech in the Senate, on March 26, 1850:—
“On the Whig side it was urged, that the candidate of the Philadelphia Convention was, if not positively favourable to the Proviso, at least pledged to leave the matter to Congress free from executive influence, and ready to prove it when enacted by that body.”
General Cass had written the celebrated “Nicholson Letter,” in which he declared that Congress had no constitutional power to enact the Proviso. But so anxious were the Democrats of the North to assume an anti-slavery aspect, — continues Mr Chase, — that
“Notwithstanding this letter, many of his friends in the free States persisted in asserting that he would not, if elected, veto the Proviso; many also insisted that he regarded slavery as excluded from the territories by the Mexican laws still in force; while others maintained that he regarded slavery as an institution of positive law, and Congress as constitutionally incompetent to enact such law, and that therefore it was impossible for slavery to get into the territories, whether Mexican law was in force or not.”
This, says Mr Chase, was the Whig argument:—
“Prohibition is essential to the certain exclusion of slavery from the territories. If the Democratic candidate shall be elected, prohibition is impossible, for the veto will be used: if the Whig candidate shall be elected, prohibition is certain, provided you elect a Congress who will carry out your will. Vote, therefore, for the Whigs.”
Such was the general argument of the Whig party. Let us see what it was in Massachusetts in special. Here I have documentary evidence. This is the statement of the Whig Convention at Worcester in 1848, published shortly before the election;—
“We understand the Whig party to be committed in favour of the principles contained in the ordinance of 1787, the prohibition of slavery in territory now free, and of its abolition wherever it can be constitutionally effected.”
They professed to aim at the same thing which the free soil party aimed at, only the work must be done by the old Whig organization. Free soil cloth must be manufactured, but it must be woven in the old Whig mill, with the old Whig machinery, and by the Whig weavers. See what the Convention says of the Democratic party:—
“We understand the Democratic party to be pledged to decline any legislation upon the subject of slavery, with a view either to its prohibition or restriction in places where it does not exist, or to its abolition in any of the territories of the United States.”
There is no ambiguity in that language. Men can talk very plain when they will. Still there were some that doubted; so the great and famous men of the party came out to convince the doubters that the Whigs were the men to save the country from the disgrace of slavery.
Here let me introduce the testimony of Mr Choate. This which follows is from his speech at Salem. He tells us the great work is, “The passage of a law to-day that California and New Mexico shall remain for ever free. That is . . . an object of great and transcendent importance: . . . we should go up to the very limits of the Constitution itself . . . to defeat the always detested and forever-to-be detested object of the dark ambition of that candidate of the Baltimore Convention, who has consented to pledge himself in advance, that he will veto the future law of freedom!” “Is there a Whig upon this floor who doubts that the strength of the Whig party next March will extend freedom to California and New Mexico, if by the Constitution they are entitled to freedom at all? Is there a member of Congress that would not vote for freedom?” [Sancta simplicitas! Ora pro nobis!] “Is there a single Whig constituency, in any free State in this country, that would return any man that would not vote for freedom? Do you believe that Daniel Webster himself could be returned, if there was the least doubt upon this question?”
That is plain speech. But, to pass from the special to the particular, hear Mr Webster himself. What follows is from his famous speech at Marshfield, September, 1848.
“General Cass (he says) will have the Senate; and with the patronage of the Government, with the interest that he, as a Northern man, can bring to bear, co-operating with every interest that the South can bring to bear, we cry safety before we are out of the woods, if we feel that there is no danger as to these new territories!” “In my judgment, the interests of the country and the feelings of a vast majority of the people require that a President of these United States shall be elected, who will neither use his official influence to promote, nor who feels any disposition in his heart to promote, the further extension of slavery in this country, and the further influence of it in the public councils.”
Speaking of the free soil party and the Buffalo platform, he says — “I hold myself to be as good a free soil man as any of the Buffalo convention.” Of the platform, he says — “I can stand upon it pretty well.” “I beg to know who is to inspire into my breast a more resolute and fixed determination to resist, unyieldingly, the encroachments and advances of the slave power in this country, than has inspired it, ever since the day that I first opened my mouth in the councils of the country.”
If such language as this would not “deceive the very elect,” what was more to the point, it was quite enough to deceive the electors. But now this language is forgotten; forgotten in general by the Whig party North; forgotten in special by those who seemed to be the exponents of the Whig party in Massachusetts; forgotten at any rate by the nine hundred and eighty-seven men who signed the letter to Mr Webster; and in particular it is forgotten by Mr Webster himself, who now says that it would disgrace his own understanding to vote for the extension of the Wilmot Proviso over the new territory!
There were some men in New England who did not believe the statements of the Whig party North in 1848, because they knew the men that uttered the sentiments of the Whig party South. The leaders put their thumbs in the eyes of the people, and then said, “Do you see any dough in our faces?” “No!” said the people, “not a speck.” “Then vote our ticket, and never say we are not hostile to slavery so long as you live.”
At the South, the Whig party used language somewhat different. Here is a sample from the New Orleans Bee:—
“General Taylor is from birth, association, and conviction, identified with the South and her institutions; being one of the most extensive slave-holders in Louisiana — and supported by the slave-holding interest, as opposed to the Wilmot Proviso, and in favour of securing the privilege to the owners of slaves to remove with them to newly acquired territory.”
3. Then there is the Democratic party. The distinctive idea of the Democrats is represented by the word anti-protection, or revenue tariff. This party, as such, is still less opposed to slavery than the Whigs; however, there are connected with it, at the North, many men who oppose the extension of slavery. This party is divided into two divisions, the Democratic party South, and the Democratic party North. They agree in their idea of anti-protection and slavery, differing only in the emphasis which they give to the two words. The Democrats of the South say Slavery and anti-protection; the Democrats North, Anti-protection and slavery. Thus you see, that while there is a specific difference between Democrats and Whigs, there is also a generic agreement in the matter of slavery. According to the doctrine of elective affinities, both drop what they have a feeble affinity for, and hold on with what their stronger affinity demands. The Whigs and Democrats of the South are united in their attachment to slavery, not only mechanically, but by a sort of chemical union.
Mr Cass's Nicholson letter is well known. He says, Congress has no constitutional right to restrict slavery in the territories. Here is the difference between him and General Taylor. General Taylor does not interfere at all in the matter. If Congress puts slavery in, he says, Very well! If Congress puts slavery out, he says the same, Very well! But if Congress puts slavery out, General Cass would say, No. You shall not put it out. One has the policy of King Log, the other that of King Serpent. So far as that goes Log is the better king.
So much for the Democratic party.
4. The free soil party opposes slavery so far as it is possible to do, and yet comply with the Constitution of the United States. Its idea is declared by its words, — No more slave territory. It does not profess to be an antislavery party in general, only an anti-slavery party subject to the Constitution. In the present crisis in the Congress of the United States, it seems to me the men who represent this idea, though not always professing allegiance to the party, have yet done the nation good and substantial service. I refer more particularly to Messrs Chase, Seward, and Hale in the Senate, to Messrs Root, Giddings, and Mann in the House. Those gentlemen swear to keep the Constitution; in what sense and with what limitations
I know not. It is for them to settle that matter with their own consciences. I do know this, that these men have spoken very noble words against slavery; heroic words in behalf of freedom. It is not to be supposed that the free soil party, as such, has attained the same convictions as to the sin of slavery, which the anti-slavery party has long arrived at. Still they may be as faithful to their convictions as any of the men about this platform. If they have less light to walk by, they have less to be accountable for. For my own part, spite of their short-comings, and of some things which to me seem wrong in the late elections in New England, I cannot help thinking they have done good as individuals, and as a party; it seems to me they have done good both ways. I will honour all manly opposition to slavery, whether it come up to my mark, or does not come near it. I will ask every man to be true to his conscience, and his reason, not to mine.
In speaking of the parties, I ought not to omit to say a word or two respecting some of the most prominent men, and their position in reference to this slavery question. It is a little curious, that of all the candidates for the Presidency, Mr Benton, of Missouri, should be the least inclined to support the pretensions of the slave power. But so it is.
Of Mr Cass, nothing more need be said at present; his position is defined and well known. But a word must be said of Mr Clay. He comes forward, as usual, with a “Compromise.” Here it is, in the famous “Omnibus Bill.” In one point it is not so good as the Government scheme. General Taylor, as the organ of the party, recommends the admission of California, as an independent measure. He does not huddle and lump it together with any other matters; and in this respect, his scheme is more favourable to freedom than the other; for Mr Clay couples the admission of California with other things. But in two points Mr Clay's bill has the superiority over the General's scheme.
1. It limits the Western and Northern boundaries of Texas, and so reduces the territory of that State, where slavery is now established by law. Yet, as I understand it, he takes off from New Mexico about seventy thousand square miles, enough to make eight or ten States like Massachusetts, and delivers it over to Texas to be slave soil; as Mr Webster says, out of the power of Congress to redeem from that scourge.
2. It does not maintain that Congress has no power to exclude slavery in admitting a new State; whereas, if I understand the President in his message, he considers such an act “An invasion of their rights.”3
Let us pass by Mr Clay, and come to the other aspirant for the Presidency.
At the Philadelphia Convention, Mr Webster, at the most, could only get one-half the votes of New England; several of these not given in earnest, but only as a compliment to the great man from the North. Now, finding his presidential wares not likely to be bought by New England, he takes them to a wider market; with what success we shall one day see.
Something has already been said in the newspapers and elsewhere, about Mr Webster's speech. No speech ever delivered in America has excited such deep and righteous indignation. I know there are influential men in Boston, and in all large towns, who must always have somebody to sustain and applaud. They some time since applauded Mr Webster, for reasons very well known, and now continue their applause of him. His late speech pleases them; its worst parts please them most. All that is as was to be expected; men like what they must like. But, in the country, among the sober men of Massachusetts and New England, who prize right above the political expediency of to-day, I think Mr Webster's speech is read with indignation. I believe no one political act in America, since the treachery of Benedict Arnold, has excited so much moral indignation, as the conduct of Daniel Webster.
But I pass by his speech, to speak of other things connected with that famous man. One of the most influential pro-slavery newspapers of Boston, calls the gentlemen who signed the letter to him, the “Retainers” of Mr Webster. The word is well chosen and quite descriptive. This word is used in a common, a feudal, and a legal sense. In the common sense, it means one who has complete possession of the thing retained; in the feudal sense, it means a dependent or vassal, who is bound to support his liege lord; in the legal sense, it means the person who hires an attorney to do his business; and the sum given to secure his services, or prevent him from acting for the opposite party, is called a retaining fee. I take it the word “Retainers” is used in the legal sense; certainly it is not in the feudal sense, for these gentlemen do not owe allegiance to Mr Webster. Nor is it in its common sense, for events have shown that they have not a “complete possession” of Mr Webster.
Now a word about this letter to him. Mr Webster's retainers — nine hundred and eighty-seven in number — tell him, “You have pointed out to a whole people the path of duty, have convinced the understanding, and touched the conscience of a nation.” “We desire, therefore, to express to you our entire concurrence in the sentiments of your speech, and our heartfelt thanks for the inestimable aid it has afforded towards the preservation and perpetuation of the Union.”
They express their entire concurrence in the sentiments of his speech. In the speech, as published in the edition “revised and corrected by himself,” Mr Webster declares his intention to support the famous fugitive slave bill, and the amendments thereto, “with all its provisions, to the fullest extent.”When the retainers express their “entire concurrence in the sentiments of the speech,” they express their entire concurrence in that intention. There is no ambiguity in the language; they make a universal affirmation — (affirmatio de omni). Now Mr Webster comes out, by two agents, and recants this declaration. Let me do him no injustice. He shall be heard by his next friend, who wishes to amend the record, a correspondent of the Boston Courier, of May 6th:—
“The speech now reads thus:— ‘My friend at the head of the Judiciary Committee has a hill on the subject, now before the Senate, with some amendments to it, which I propose to support, with all its provisions, to the fullest extent.’ Change the position of the word which, and the sentence would read thus:— ‘My friend at the head of the Judiciary Committee has a bill on the subject, now before the Senate, which, with some amendments to it, I propose to support, with all its provisions, to the fullest extent.’”
“Call you that backing your friends?” Really, it is too bad, after his retainers have expressed their “entire concurrence in the sentiments of the speech," for him to back out, to deny that he entertained one of the sentiments already approved of and concurred in! Can it be possible, we ask, that Mr Webster can resort to this device to defend himself, leaving his retainers in the lurch? It does not look like him to do such a thing. But the correspondent of the Courier goes on as follows:—
“We are authorized to state, first — That Mr Webster did not revise this portion of his speech, with any view to examine its exact accuracy of phrase; and second — That Mr Webster at the time of the delivery of the speech, had in his desk three emendatory sections, . . . . and one of which provides expressly for the right of trial by jury.”
But who is the person “authorized to state” such a thing? Professor Stuart informs the public that it “comes from the hand of a man who might claim a near place to Mr Webster, in respect to talent, integrity, and patriotism.”
Still, this recantation is so unlike Mr Webster, that one would almost doubt the testimony of so great an unknown as is the writer in the Courier. But Mr Stuart removes all doubt, and says — “I merely add that Mr Webster himself has personally assured me that his speech was in accordance with the correction here made, and that he has now in his desk the amendments to which the corrector refers.” So the retainers must bear the honour, or the shame, whichsoever it may be, of volunteering the advocacy of that remarkable bill.
When Paul was persecuted for righteousness’ sake, how easily might “the offence of the cross” have been made to cease, by a mere transposition! Had he pursued that plan, he need not have been let down from the wall in a basket: he might have had a dinner given him by forty scribes, at the first hotel in Jerusalem, and a doctor of the law to defend him in a pamphlet.
But, alas! in Mr Webster's case, admitting the transposition is real, the transubstantiation is not thereby effected; the transfer of the which does not alter the character of the sentence to the requisite degree. The bill, which he volunteers to advocate, contains provisions to this effect:
That the owner of a fugitive slave may seize his fugitive, and, on the warrant of any “judge, commissioner, clerk, marshal, post-master, or collector,” “residing or being” within the State where the seizure is made, the fugitive, without any trial by jury, shall be delivered up to his master, and carried out of the State. Now, this is the bill which Mr Webster proposes “to support, with all its provisions, to the fullest extent.” Let him transfer his which, it does not transubstantiate his statement so that he can consistently introduce a section which "provides expressly for the right of trial by jury." This attempt to evade the plain meaning of a plain statement, is too small a thing for a great man.
I make no doubt that Mr Webster had in his desk, at the time alleged, a bill designed to secure the trial by jury to fugitive slaves, prepared as it is set forth. But how do you think it came there, and for what purpose? Last February Mr Webster was intending to make a very different speech; and then, I make no doubt, it was that this bill was prepared, with the design of introducing it! But I see no reason for supposing, that when he made his celebrated speech, he intended to introduce it as an amendment to Mr Mason's or Butler's bill. It is said that he will present it to the Senate. Let us wait and see.4
But, since the speech at Washington, Mr Webster has said things at Boston almost as bad. Here they are; extracts from his speech at the Revere House. I quote from the report in the Daily Advertiser. “Neither you nor I shall see the legislation of the country proceed in the old harmonious way, until the discussions in Congress and out of Congress upon the subject, to which you have alluded [the subject of slavery], shall be, in some way, suppressed. Take that truth home with you—and take it as truth.” A very pretty truth that is to take home with us, that “discussion “ must be “suppressed!”
Again, he says:—
"Sir, the question is, whether Massachusetts will stand to the truth against temptation [that is the question]! whether she will be just against temptation! whether she will defend herself against her own prejudices! She has conquered everything else in her time; she has conquered this ocean which washes her shore; she has conquered her own sterile soil; she has conquered her stern and inflexible climate; she has fought her way to the universal respect of the world; she has conquered every one's prejudices but her own. The question is, whether she will conquer her own prejudices!"
The trumpet gives no uncertain sound; but before we prepare ourselves for battle, let us see who is the foe. What are the "prejudices" Massachusetts is to conquer? The prejudice in favour of the American idea; the prejudice in favour of what our fathers called self-evident truths; that all men “are endowed with certain unalienable rights;” that “all men are created equal,” and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted amongst men.” These are the prejudices Massachusetts is called on to conquer. There are some men who will do this “with alacrity;” but will Massachusetts conquer her prejudices in favour of the “unalienable rights of man”? I think, Mr President, she will first have to forget two hundred years of history. She must efface Lexington and Bunker Hill from her memory, and tear the old rock of Plymouth out from her bosom. These are prejudices which Massachusetts will not conquer till the ocean ceases to wash her shore, and granite to harden her hills. Massachusetts has conquered a good many things, as Mr Webster tells us. I think there are several other things we shall try our hand upon, before we conquer our prejudice in favour of the unalienable rights of man.
There is one pleasant thing about this position of Mr Webster. He is alarmed at the fire which has been kindled in his rear. He finds “considerable differences of opinion prevail . . . . on the subject of that speech,” and is “grateful to receive . . . . opinions so decidedly concurring with” his own, — so he tells the citizens of Newburyport. He feels obliged to do something to escape the obloquy which naturally comes upon him. So he revises his speech; now supplying an omission, now altering a little; authorizes another great man to transpose his relative pronoun, and anchor it fast to another antecedent; appeals to amendments in the senatorial desk, designed to secure a jury trial for fugitive slaves; derides his opponents, and compares them with the patriots of ancient times. Here is his letter to the citizens of Newburyport — a very remarkable document. It contains some surprising legal doctrines, which I leave others to pass upon. But in it he explains the fugitive slave law of 1793, which does not “provide for the trial of any question whatever by jury, in the State in which the arrest is made.” “At that time,” nobody regarded any of the provisions of that bill as “repugnant to religion, liberty, the constitution, or humanity;” and he has “no more objections to the provisions of this law, than was seen to them” by the framers of the law itself. If he sees therein nothing "”repugnant to religion, liberty, the constitution, or humanity,” then why transpose that relative pronoun, and have an amendment “which provides expressly for the right of trial by jury?”
“In order to allay excitement,” he answers, “and remove objections.” “There are many difficulties, however, attending any such provision [of a jury trial]; and a main one, and perhaps the only insuperable one, has been created by the States themselves, by making it a penal offence in their own officers, to render any aid in apprehending or securing such fugitives, and absolutely refusing the use of their jails for keeping them in custody, till a jury could be impanelled, witnesses summoned, and a regular trial be had.”
Think of that! It is Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, which prohibit the fugitive from getting a trial for his freedom, before a jury of twelve good men and true! But Mr Webster goes on: “It is not too much to say, that to these State laws is to be attributed the actual and practical denial of trial by jury in these cases.” Generally, the cause is thought to precede the effect, but here is a case in which, according to Mr Webster, the effect has got the start of the cause, by more than fifty years. The fugitive slave law of Congress, which allowed the master to capture the runaway, was passed in 1793; but the State laws he refers to, to which "is to be attributed the actual and practical denial of trial by jury in these cases,” were not passed till after 1840. “To what base uses may we come at last!” Mr Webster would never have made such a defence of his pro-slavery conduct, had he not been afraid of the fire in his rear, and thought his retainers not able to put it out. He seems to think this fire is set in the name of religion: so, to help us “conquer our prejudices,” he cautions us against the use of religion, and quotes from the private letter of “one of the most distinguished men in England,” dated as late as the 29th of January — “Religion is an excellent thing in every matter except in politics: there it seems to make men mad.” In this respect, it seems religion is inferior to money, for the Proverbs tell us that money “answereth all things;” religion, it seems, “answereth all things,” except politics. Poor Mr Webster! If religion is not good in politics, I suppose irreligion is good there; and, really, it is often enough introduced there. So, if religion “seems to make men mad” in politics, I suppose irreligion makes them sober in politics. But Mr Webster, fresh from his transposition of his own relative, explains this: His friend ascribes the evils not to “true and genuine religion,” but to “that fantastic notion of religion.” So, making the transposition, it would read thus: “That fantastical notion of religion,” “is an excellent thing in any matter except politics.” Alas! Mr Webster does not expound his friend's letter, nor his own language, so well as he used to expound the Constitution. But he says, “The religion of the New Testament is as sure a guide to duty in politics, as in any other concern of life.” So, in the name of “conscience and the Constitution,” Professor Stuart comes forward to defend Mr Webster, “by the religion of the New Testament; that religion which is founded on the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.” How are the mighty fallen!
Mr Webster makes a “great speech,” lending his mighty influence to the support and extension of slavery, with all its attendant consequences, which paralyze the hand of industry, enfeeble the thinking mind, and brutify the conscience which should discern between right and wrong; nine hundred and eighty-seven of his retainers in Boston thank him for reminding them of their duty. But still the fire in his rear is so hot, that he must come on to Boston, talk about having discussion suppressed, and ask Massachusetts to conquer her prejudices. That is not enough. He must go up to Andover, and get a minister to defend him, in the name of “conscience and the Constitution,” supporting slavery out of the Old Testament and New Testament. “To what mean uses may we not descend!”
There is a “short and easy method” with Professor Stuart, and all other men who defend slavery out of the Bible. If the Bible defends slavery, it is not so much the better for slavery, but so much the worse for the Bible. If Mr Stuart and Mr Webster do not see that, there are plenty of obscurer men that do. Of all the attacks ever made on the Bible, by “deists” and “infidels,” none would do so much to bring it into disrepute, as to show that it sanctioned American slavery.
It is rather a remarkable fact, that an orthodox minister should be on Mr Webster's paper, endorsing for the Christianity of slavery.
Let me say a word respecting the position of the Representative from Boston. I speak only of his position, not of his personal character. Let him, and all men, have the benefit of the distinction between their personal character and official conduct. Mr Winthrop is a consistent Whig; a representative of the idea of the Whig party North, protection and slavery. When he first went into Congress, it was distinctly understood that he was not going to meddle with the matter of slavery; the tariff was the thing. All this was consistent. It is to be supposed that a Northern Whig will put the mills of the North before the black men of the South: and “Property before persons,” might safely be writ on the banner of the Whig party, North or South.
Mr Winthrop seems a little uneasy in his position. Some time ago he complained of a “nest of vipers” in Boston, who had broken their own teeth in gnawing a file; meaning the “vipers” in the free soil party, I suppose, whose teeth, however, have a little edge still left on them. He finds it necessary to define his position, and show that he has kept up his communication with the base line of operations from which he started. This circumstance is a little suspicious.
Unlike Mr Webster, Mr Winthrop seems to think religion is a good thing in politics, for in his speech of May 7th, he says — “I acknowledge my allegiance to the whole Constitution of the United States. . . between the Constitution of my country and the laws of my God, my course is clear. I shall resign my office, whatever it may be, and renounce all connection with public service of any sort.” That is fair and manly. He will not hold a position under the Constitution of the United States which is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Universe. But he says — “There are provisions in the Constitution [of the United States, he means, not of the universe], which involve us in painful obligations, and from which some of us would rejoice to be relieved; and this [the restoration of fugitive slaves] is one of them. But there is none, none, in my judgment, which involves any conscientious or religious difficulty.” So he has no “conscientious or religious” objection to return a fugitive slave. He thinks the Constitution of the United States “avoids the idea that there can be property in man,” but recognizes “that there may be property in the service or labour of man.” But when it is property in the service of man without value received by the servant, and a claim which continues to attach to a man and his children for ever, it looks very like the idea of property in man. At any rate, there is only a distinction in the words, no difference in the things. To claim the sum of the accidents, all and several of a thing, is practically to claim the thing.
Mr Winthrop once voted for the Wilmot Proviso, in its application to the Oregon Territory. Some persons have honoured him for it, and even contended that he also was a free soiler. He wipes off that calumny by declaring, that he attached that proviso to the Oregon bill for the purpose of defeating the bill itself. “This proviso was one of the means upon which I mainly relied for the purpose.” “There can be little doubt,” he says, “that this clause had its influence in arresting the bill in the other end of the capitol,” where it was “finally lost.” That is his apology for appearing to desire to prevent the extension of slavery. It is worth while to remember this.
Unlike Mr Webster, he thinks slavery may go into New Mexico. “We may hesitate to admit that nature has everywhere [in the new territory] settled the question against slavery.” Still he would not now pass the proviso to exclude slavery. It “would . . . unite the South as one man, and if it did not actually rend the Union asunder, would create an alienation and irritation in that quarter of the country, which would render the Union hardly worth preserving.” “Is there not ample reason for an abatement of the Northern tone, for a forbearance of Northern urgency upon this subject, without the imputation of tergiversation and treachery?”
Here I am reminded of a remarkable sentence in Mr Webster's speech at Marshfield, in relation to the Northern men who helped to annex Texas. Here it is:—
“For my part, I think that Dough-faces is an epithet not sufficiently reproachful. Now, I think such persons are dough-faces, dough-heads, and dough-souls, that they are all dough; that the coarsest potter may mould them at pleasure to vessels of honour or dishonour, but most readily to vessels of dishonour.”
The Representative from Boston, in the year 1850, has small objection to the extension of slave soil. Hearken to his words:—
“I can never put the question of extending slave soil on the same footing with one of directly increasing slavery and multiplying slaves. If a positive issue could ever again be made up for our decision, whether human beings, few or many, of whatever race, complexion, or condition, should be freshly subjected to a system of hereditary bondage, and be changed from freemen into slaves, I can conceive that no bonds of union, no ties of interest, no cords of sympathy, no consideration of past glory, present welfare, or future grandeur, should be suffered to interfere, for an instant, with our resolute and unceasing resistance to a measure so iniquitous and abominable. There would be a clear, unquestionable moral element in such an issue, which would admit of no compromise, no concession, no forbearance whatever. . . . A million of swords would leap from their scabbards to assert it, and the Union itself would be shivered like a Prince Rupert's dress in the shock.
“But, Sir, the question whether the institution of slavery, as it already exists, shall be permitted to extend itself over a hundred or a hundred thousand more square miles than it now occupies, is a different question. . . It is not, in my judgment, such an issue that conscientious and religious men may not be free to acquiesce in whatever decision may be arrived at by the constituted authorities of the country. . . . It is not with a view of cooping up slavery . . . within limits too narrow for its natural growth; . . . it is not for the purpose of girding it round with lines of fire, till its sting, like that of the scorpion, shall be turned upon itself, . . . that I have ever advocated the principles of the Ordinance of 1787.”
Mr Mann, I think, is still called a Whig, but no member of the free soil party has more readily or more ably stood up against the extension of slavery. His noble words stand in marvellous contrast to the discourse of the Representative from Boston. Mr Mann represents the country, and not the “metropolis.” His speech last February, and his recent letter to his constituents, are too well known, and too justly prized, to require any commendation here. But I cannot fail to make a remark on a passage in the letter. He says, if we allow Mr Clay's compromise to be accepted, “Were it not for the horrible consequences which it would involve, a roar of laughter, like a feu de joie, would run down the course of the ages.” He afterwards says — “Should the South succeed in their present attempt upon the territories, they will impatiently await the retirement of General Taylor from the executive chair to add the ‘State of Cuba’ . . . to this noble triumph.” One is a little inclined to start such a laugh himself at the idea of the South waiting for that event before they undertake that plan!
Mr Mann says: “If no moral or religious obligation existed against holding slaves, would not many of those opulent and respectable gentlemen who signed the letter of thanks to Mr Webster, and hundreds of others, indeed, instead of applying to intelligence offices for domestics, go at once to the auction room, and buy a man or a woman with as little hesitancy or compunction as they now send to Brighton for beeves?” This remark has drawn on him some censures not at all merited. There are men enough in Boston, who have no objection to slavery. I know such men, who would have been glad if slavery had been continued here. Are Boston merchants unwilling to take mortgages on plantations and negroes? Do Northern men not acquire negroes by marrying wealthy women at the South, and keep the negroes as slaves? If the truth could be known, I think it would appear that Dr Palfrey had lost more reputation in Boston than he gained, by emancipating the human beings which fell to his lot. But here is a story which I take from the Boston Republican. It is worth preserving as a monument of the morals of Boston in 1850, and may be worth preserving at the end of the century:—
“A year or two since, a bright-looking mulatto youth, about twenty years of age, and whose complexion was not much, if any, darker than that of the great ‘Expounder of the Constitution,’ entered the counting-room, on some errand for his master, a Kentuckian, who was making a visit here. A merchant on one of our principal wharves, who came in and spoke to him, remarked to the writer that he once owned this “boy” and his mother, and sold them for several hundred dollars. Upon my expressing astonishment to him that he could thus deal in human flesh, he remarked that ‘When you are among the Romans, you must do as the Romans do.’ I know of others of my Northern acquaintances, and good Whigs too, who have owned slaves at the South, and who, if public opinion warranted it, would be as likely, I presume, to buy and sell them at the North.”
I have yet to learn that the controlling men of this city have any considerable aversion to domestic slavery.5
Mr Mann's zeal in behalf of freedom, and against the extension of slavery, has drawn upon him the indignation of Mr Webster, who is grieved to see him so ignorant of American law. But Mr Mann is able to do his own fighting.
So much for the political parties and their relation to the matters at issue at this moment. Still, there is some reason to hope that the attempt to extend slavery, made in the face of the world, and supported by such talent, will yet fail; that it will bring only shame on the men who aim to extend and perpetuate so foul a blight. The fact that Mr Webster's retainers must come to the rescue of their attorney; that himself must write letters to defend himself, and must even obtain the services of a clergyman to help him — this shows the fear that is felt from the antislavery spirit of the North. Depend upon it, a politician is pretty far gone when he sends for the minister, and he thinks his credit failing when he gets a clergyman on his paper to indorse for the Christian character of American slavery.
Here I ought to speak of the party not politicians, who contend against slavery not only beyond the limits of the Constitution, but within those limits; who are opposed not only to the extension, but to the continuance of slavery; who declare that they will keep no compromises which conflict with the eternal laws of God,—of the anti-slavery party. Mr President, if I were speaking to Whigs, to Democrats, or to free soil men, perhaps I might say what I think of this party, of their conduct, and their motives; but, Sir, I pass it by, with the single remark, that I think the future will find this party where they have always been found. I have before now attempted to point out the faults of this party, and before these men; that work I will not now attempt a second time, and this is not the audience before which I choose to chant its praises.
There are several forces which oppose the anti-slavery movement at this day. Here are some of the most important.
The demagogues of the parties are all, or nearly all, against it. By demagogue I mean the man who undertakes to lead the people for his own advantage, to the harm and loss of the people themselves. All of this class of men, or most of them, now support slavery—not, as I suppose, because they have any special friendship for it, but because they think it will serve their turn. Some noble men in politics are still friends of the slave.
The demagogues of the churches must come next. I am not inclined to attribute so much original power to the churches as some men do. I look on them as indications of public opinion, and not sources thereof — not the wind, but only the vane which shows which way it blows. Once the clergy were the masters of the people, and the authors of public opinion to a great degree; now they are chiefly the servants of the people, and follow public opinion, and but seldom aspire to lead it, except in matters of their own craft, such as the technicalities of a sect, or the form of a ritual. They may lead public opinion in regard to the “posture in prayer,” to the “form of baptism,” and the like. In important matters which concern the welfare of the nation, the clergy have none or very little weight. Still, as representatives of public opinion, we really find most of the clergy of all denominations, arrayed against the cause of eternal justice. I pass over this matter briefly, because it is hardly necessary for me to give any opinion on the subject. But I am glad to add, that in all denominations here in New England, and perhaps in all the North, there are noble men, who apply the principles of justice to this question of the nation, and bear a manly testimony in the midst of bad examples. Some of the theological newspapers have shown a hostility to slavery and an attachment to the cause of liberty which few men expected; which were quite unknown in those quarters before. To do full justice to men in the sects who speak against this great and popular sin of the nation, we ought to remember that it is harder for a minister than for almost any other man to become a reformer. It is very plain that it is not thought to belong to the calling of a minister, especially in a large town, to oppose the actual and popular sins of his time. So when I see a minister yielding to the public opinion which favours unrighteousness, and passing by, in silence and on the other side, causes which need and deserve his labours and his prayers, I remember what he is hired for, and paid for, — to represent the popular form of religion; if that be idolatry, to represent that. But when I see a minister oppose a real sin which is popular, I cannot but feel a great admiration for the man. We have lately seen some examples of this.
Yet, on the other side, there are some very sad examples of the opposite. Here comes forward a man of high standing in the New England churches, a man who has done real service in promoting a liberal study of matters connected with religion, and defends slavery out of what he deems the “Infallible word of God,”—the Old Testament and the New Testament. Well, if Christianity supports American slavery, so much the worse for Christianity, that is all. Perhaps I ought not to say, if Christianity supports slavery. We all know it does not, never did, and never can. But if Paul was an apologist for slavery, so much the worse for Paul. If Calvinism or Catholicism supports slavery, so much the worse for them, not so much the better for slavery! I can easily understand the conduct of the leaders of the New York mob: considering the character of the men, their ignorance and general position, I can easily suppose they may have thought they were doing right in disturbing the meetings there. Considering the apathy of the public authorities, and the attempt, openly made by some men, — unluckily of influence in that city,— to excite others to violence, I have a good deal of charity for Rynders and his gang. But it is not so easy to excuse the conspicuous ecclesiastical defenders of slavery. They cannot plead their ignorance. Let them alone, to make the best defence they can.
The Toryism of America is also against us. I call that man a Tory, who prefers the accidents of man to the substance of manhood. I mean one who prefers the possessions and property of mankind to man himself, to reason and to justice. Of this Toryism we have much in America, much in New England, much in Boston. In this town, I cannot but think the prevailing influence is still a Tory influence. It is this which is the support of the demagogues of the State and the Church.
Toryism exists in all lands. In some, there is a good deal of excuse to be made for it. I can understand the Toryism of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, and of such men. If a man has been born to great wealth and power, derived from ancestors for many centuries held in admiration and in awe; if he has been bred to account himself a superior being, and to be treated accordingly, I can easily understand the Toryism of such a man, and find some excuse for it. I can understand the Tory literature of other nations. The Toryism of the “London Quarterly,” of “Blackwood,” is easily accounted for, and forgiven. It is, besides, sometimes adorned with wit, and often set off by much learning. It is respectable Toryism. But the Toryism of men who only know they had a grandfather by inference, not by positive testimony; who inherited nothing but their bare limbs; who began their career as tradesmen or mechanics, — mechanics in divinity or law as well as in trade,—and get their bread by any of the useful and honourable callings of life — that such men, getting rich, or lifting their heads out of the obscurity they were once in, should become Tories, in a land, too, where institutions are founded on the idea of freedom and equity and natural justice — that is another thing. The Toryism of American journals, with little scholarship, with no wit, and wisdom in homoeopathic doses; the Toryism of a man who started from nothing, the architect of his own fortune; the Toryism of a republican, of a Yankee, the Toryism of a snob, — it is Toryism reduced to its lowest denomination, made vulgar and contemptible; it is the little end of the tail of Toryism. Let us loathe the unclean thing in the depth of our soul, but let us pity the poor Tory; for he, also, in common with the negro slave, is “A man and a brother.”
Then the spirit of trade is often against us. Mr Mann, in his letter, speaks of the opposition made to Wilberforce by the “Guinea merchants” of Liverpool, in his attempts to put an end to the slave-trade. The Corporation of Liverpool spent over ten thousand pounds in defence of a traffic, “the worst the sun ever shone upon.” This would seem to be a reflection upon some of the merchants of Boston. It seems, from a statement in the Atlas, that Mr Mann did not intend his remarks to apply to Boston, but to New York and Philadelphia, where mass meetings of merchants had been held, to sustain Mr Clay's compromise resolutions. Although Mr Mann did not apply his remarks to Boston, I fear they will apply here as well as to our sister cities. I have yet to learn that the letter of Mr Webster's retainers was any less well adapted to continue and extend slavery, than the resolutions passed at New York and Philadelphia. I wish the insinuations of Mr Mann did not apply here.
One of the signers of the letter to Mr Webster incautiously betrayed, I think, the open secret of the retainers when he said — “I don't care a damn how many slave States they annex!” This is a secret, because not avowed; open, because generally known, or at least believed, to be the sentiment of a strong party in Massachusetts. I am glad to have it also expressed; now the issue is joined, and we do not fight in the dark.
It has long been suspected that some inhabitants of Boston were engaged in the slave-trade. Not long since, the brig “Lucy Anne,” of Boston, was captured on the coast of Africa, with five hundred and forty-seven slaves on board. This vessel was built at Thomaston in 1839; repaired at Boston in 1848, and now hails from this port. She was commanded by one “Captain Otis,” and is owned by one "Salem Charles." This, I suppose, is a fictitious name, for certainly it would not be respectable in Boston to extend slavery in this way. Even Mr Winthrop is opposed to that, and thinks “a million swords would leap from their scabbards to oppose it.” But it may be that there are men in Boston who do not think it any worse to steal men who were born free, and have grown up free in Africa, and make slaves of them, than to steal such as are born free in America, before they are grown up. If we have the Old Testament decidedly sustaining slavery, and the New Testament never forbidding it; if, as we are often told, neither Jesus nor his early followers ever said a word against slavery; if scarcely a Christian minister in Boston ever preaches against this national sin; if the Representative from Boston has no religious scruples against returning a fugitive slave, or extending slavery over a “hundred or a hundred thousand square miles” of new territory; if the great senator from Massachusetts refuses to vote for the Wilmot Proviso, or re-affirm an ordinance of nature, and re-enact the will of God; if he calls on us to return fugitive slaves “with alacrity,” and demands of Massachusetts that she shall conquer her prejudices; if nine hundred and eighty-seven men in this vicinity, of lawful age,6 are thankful to him for enlightening them as to their duty, and a professor of theology comes forward to sanction American slavery in the name of religion—why, I think Mr “Salem Charles,” with his “Captain Otis,” may not be the worst man in the world, after all! Let us pity him also, as “A man and a brother.”
Such is the crisis in our affairs; such the special issue in the general question between freedom and slavery; such the position of parties and of great men in relation to this question; such the foes to freedom in America.
On our side, there are great and powerful allies. The American idea is with us; the spirit of the majority of men in the North, when they are not blindfolded and muzzled by the demagogues of State and Church. The religion of the land, also, is on our side; the irreligion, the idolatry, the infidelity thereof, all of that is opposed to us. Religion is love of God and love of man: surely, all of that, under any form, Catholic or Quaker, is in favour of the unalienable rights of man. We know that we are right; we are sure to prevail. But in times present and future, as in times past, we need heroism, self-denial, a continual watchfulness, and an industry which never tires.
Let us not be deceived about the real question at issue. It is not merely whether we shall return fugitive slaves without trial by jury. We will not return them with trial by jury! neither “with alacrity,” nor “with the solemnity of judicial proceedings!” It is not merely whether slavery shall be extended or not. By and by there will be a political party with a wider basis than the free soil party, who will declare that the nation itself must put an end to slavery in the nation; and if the Constitution of the United States will not allow it, there is another Constitution that will. Then the title, Defender and expounder of the Constitution of the United States, will give way to this, — “Defender and expounder of the Constitution of the Universe,” and we shall re-affirm the ordinance of nature, and re-enact the will of God. You may not live to see it, Mr President, nor I live to see it; but it is written on the iron leaf that it must come; come, too, before long. Then the speech of Mr Webster, and the defence thereof by Mr Stuart, the letter of the retainers and the letters of the retained, will be a curiosity; the conduct of the Whigs and Democrats an amazement, and the peculiar institution a proverb amongst all the nations of the earth. In the turmoil of party politics, and of personal controversy, let us not forget continually to move the previous question, whether freedom or slavery is to prevail in America. There is no attribute of God which is not on our side; because, in this matter, we are on the side of God.
Mr President: I began by congratulating you on the favourable signs of the times. One of the most favourable is the determination of the South to use the powers of Government to extend slavery. At this day, we exhibit a fact worse than Christendom has elsewhere to disclose; the fact that one-sixth part of our population are mere property; not men, but things. England has a proletary population, the lowest in Europe; we have three million of proletaries lower than the “pauper labourers” of England, which the Whig protectionists hold up to us in terror. The South wishes to increase the number of slaves, to spread this blot, this blight and baneful scourge of civilization, over new territory. Hot-headed men of the South declare that, unless it is done, they will divide the Union; famous men of the North “cave in,” and verify their own statements about “dough-faces” and “dough-souls.” All this is preaching anti-slavery to the thinking men of the North; to the sober men of all parties, who prefer conscience to cotton. The present session of Congress has done much to overturn slavery. “Whom the gods destroy they first make mad.”
1 Mr Silgestrom.
2 Annal. Lib. XIV. cap. 42, et seq.
3 Executive Documents: House of Representatives, No. 17, p. 3.
4 Since the delivery of the above, Mr Webster has introduced his bill, providing a trial by jury for fugitive slaves. If I understand it, Mr Webster does not offer it as a substitute for the Judiciary Bill on the subject, does not introduce it as an amendment to that or to anything else. Nay, he does not formally introduce it—only lays it before the Senate, with the desire that it may be printed! The effect it is designed to produce, it is very easy to see. The retainers can now say—See! Mr Webster himself wishes to provide a trial by jury for fugitives! Some of the provisions of the bill are remarkable, but they need not be dwelt on here.
5 While this is passing through the press, I learn that several worthy citizens of Boston are at this moment owners of several hundreds of slaves. I think they would lose reputation among their fellows if they should set them free.
6 It has since appeared that several of those persons were at the time, and still are, holders of slaves. Their conduct need excite no surprise.
SOURCE: Frances Power Cobbe, The Collected Works of Theodore Parker, Volume 5, p. 103-133