Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

commerce ; they were apprehensive that the restraints of a navigation law would discourage foreigners, and by compelling them to employ the shipping of the northern States, would probably enhance their freight. This being the case, they insisted strenuously on having this provision engrafted in the constitution; and the northern States were as anxious in opposing it. On the other hand, the small States, seeing themselves embraced by the confederation upon equal terms, wished to retain the advantages which they possessed, on equal terms. The large States, on the contrary, thought it not right that Rhode Island and Delaware should enjoy an equal suffrage with themselves. From these circumstances a delicate and difficult contest arose. It became necessary therefore to compromise, or the convention would have been dissolved, without effecting any thing.* On the 22d of August, this subject was committed to a committee of eleven, one member from each State-Langdon of New Hampshire, King of Massachusetts, Johnson of Connecticut, Livingston of New Jersey, Clymer of Pennsylvania, Dickinson of Delaware, Martin of Maryland, Madison of Virginia, Williamson of North Carolina, C. C. Pinckney of South Carolina, and Baldwin of Georgia. On the 24th, the committee reported that the slave trade should not be prohibited in such States as permit the same prior to the year 1800, but a tax may be imposed at a rate not exceeding the average of the duties laid on imposts. On the 25th, it was moved to strike out 1800, and insert 1808, which passed; Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, voting in the affirmative, and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, in the negative. The last part of the report was amended, so that a tax might be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person. This repo

This report met with considerable opposition. It was said that we had just appealed to the Supreme Being for his assistance as the God of freedom, who could not but approve our efforts to preserve the rights which he had thus imparted to his creatures; that now, when we had scarcely risen from our knees, from supplicating his aid and protection, we were placing in that free government which he had enabled us to establish, a provision to encourage the slave trade, wantonly sporting with the rights of our fellow men, and insulting that Being whose protection we had implored. It was urged, that we ought expressly to prohibit, in the constitution, the further importation of slaves, and to authorise the general government to make such regulations from time to time, as should be thought most advantageous for the gradual abolition of slavery, and the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the States. It was contended that slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism, and has a tendency to destroy those principles on which it is supported, as it lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind, and habituates us to tyranny. South Carolina and Georgia were opposed to any restriction in respect to the time when the traffic should cease. Virginia had abolished it several years before as an independent State.

* See the speeches of Alexander Hamilton, in the New York Convention.

3. Fugitive Slaves. The following part of the fourth section of the second article of the constitution was adopted unanimously, on the 29th of August. “ No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service

may be due." By a decision of the supreme court of the United States, this provision does not extend to a slave voluntarily carried by his master into another State, and there left under the protection of a law declaring him free; but to slaves escaping from one State into another.

4. Suppression of insurrections. The fourth section of the fourth article has relation to this subject, and is as follows: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive, when the legislature cannot be convened, against domestic violence."

Such are the various provisions of the constitution in relation to this subject. It was soon found to be necessary for congress to act. In the convention of Virginia, called to ratify the constitution, governor Randolph said, “I hope there is none here, who, considering the subject in the calm light of philosophy, will make an objection dishonorable to Virginia, that at the moment they were securing the rights of their citizens, an objection is started, that there is a spark of hope, that those unfortunate men now held in bondage, may by the operation of the general government be made free."

or labor

!

At the first congress, petitions on the subject were brought forward. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society presented a memorial, praying congress to promote the abolition by such means as it possessed. This memorial was referred in the house to a select committee, consisting of Foster of New Hampshire, Gerry of Massachusetts, Huntington of Connecticut, Lawrence of New York, Sinnickson of New Jersey, Hartley of Pennsylvania, and Parker of Virginia—all from the free States but the last. This committee made a report, which was considered and discussed on several days by a committee of the whole house. Being amended, though without material alteration, it was made to express three distinct propositions, on the subject of slavery and the slave trade. First, in the words of the constitution, that congress could not, prior to 1808, prohibit the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States then existing, should think proper to admit. Second, that congress had authority to restrain the citizens of the United States from carrying on the African slave-trade, for the purpose of supplying foreign countries. On this proposition, the early laws against those who continue in the traffic are founded. Thirdly, that congress have no authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them in any of the States; it remaining with the several States alone to provide rules and regulations therein, which humanity and true policy may require. These resolutions received the sanction of the house, in March, 1790. It is important to observe that not only were the select committee, who reported the resolution, northern men, with a single exception, but nearly two thirds of the members of the house were northern men also. The house agreed to insert these resolutions on their journal.

From the provisions of the constitution just recited, from the decisions of the supreme court, and from the action of congress, the following inferences may be legitimately deduced.

1. No inconsiderable portion of the guilt of the introduction of slavery into this country is resting on Great Britain. An impartial reader of the colonial history will be fully convinced of this. Virginia and other States remonstrated repeatedly and most earnestly to the parent government, but the remonstrances in every instance were thrown back, sometimes with studied reproach.

2. Slavery has been always considered as a subject for the consideration and action of the individual States concerned. This is the uniform testimony of the proceedings of the old congress, of the articles of confederation, of the acts of congress under the confederation, of the convention which formed the constitution, of the measures of congress under the constitution, and of the decisions of the supreme court of the United States. While subject to Great Britain, no attempt was made by one State to interfere in the slave policy of another State.

3. Slavery is recognized tacitly but distinctly in the constitution. However much we may wish that this excellent frame of government were divested of the obnoxious articles, there is now no remedy, except by modification or a new constitution. We must take the instrument as it is. It is a constitution for the whole country, and for each of the States. All are sworn to fulfil the conditions which they have voluntarily assumed.

4. Slaves are recognized as persons by the constitution. Three-fifths of them are in some sort represented in the government of the country.

5. They are also regarded simply as property. Twofifths are not even nominally represented. Their personal liberty is taken away by the provision which compels a State to deliver up a fugitive slave to his owner.

6. No measures can be lawfully taken by the citizens of the free States, which shall tend to promote disturbance and insurrection among the slaves. We are parties to a solemn covenant, and we must abide by it. The legal right of the master to the slave is entire. The people of the free States have no authority to adopt measures which shall even indirectly tend to political disunion and servile war.

7. We are justifiable, notwithstanding, in using all lawful methods to accomplish the abolition of slavery. Because we have no legal right to interfere, it does not follow that we have no moral right to use argument and earnest expostulation. We have moral obligations to discharge, when the enactments of the books are against us.

As fellow countrymen and as fellow men, we are authoritatively charged by conscience, and self-interest, and love of country, to testify our sentiments in regard to slavery. A legal right cannot of course seal up the lips of a man. A nuisance in the north, though sanctioned by law, is the proper object of animadversion at the south. We desire that our Southern brethren would address us in tones of utmost severity respecting any abuse or legalized crime of which they know us to be guilty. We claim the same rights in respect to evils which exist among them. There are duties to which the constitution does not allude-high moral and religious duties, which no man can foreclose or nullify. They are to be discharged prudently, but nevertheless, firmly, and unshrinkingly. We are to consult, indeed, the proprieties of time and place, but in no circumstances to compromit duty, or give up fundamental principles. It is perfectly manifest that the framers of the constitution viewed the matter in this light. They were compelled by stern necessity to admit slavery into the constitution. They believed that a constitution could not be formed without it. The tedious circumlocutions which they adopted to avoid mentioning the word slave, in the constitution, is a true index of their feelings and opinions. We are not to overlook this point when we undertake to interpret it. The views and intentions of its framers are always to be taken into the account. Most of the sage men who formed the instrument, were totally opposed to slavery on principle. Governor Randolph, of Virginia, considered that the provisions of the constitution might have a remote tendency to abolition. The sentiments of Dr. Franklin are well known. John Jay, not, indeed, a member of the Federal Convention, but one of the strongest advocates of the constitution, was president of a Manumission Society. While, therefore, we proceed prudently, constitutionally, and in a Christian spirit, we are never to lose sight of the intrinsic and enormous evils of the slave system. We are never to relax our efforts until those evils are extirpated from the earth. The subject, in all its aspects and relations, is one of overwhelming importance. The evils are so great, of so long standing, they touch upon so many interests, they are incorporated with so much feeling and prejudice, and they increase so rapidly, that neither the wisdom of all our statesmen, the learning of all our scholars, nor the benevolence of all our philanthropists, are sufficient of themselves to remove or essentially to mitigate them. We must rely on Him who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.

We shall examine at length, in future numbers, the questions connected with abolition and African colonization.

« ZurückWeiter »