American anti-slavery society.

Address to the friends of contitutional liberty, on the violation by the United States House of representatives of the right of petition online

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No. 14.

















This No. contains 1 sheet. — Postage, under 100 miles, \\ ct. over 100, 2£ cts.
IJC^- Please Read and circulate. _£Q

Collected set.



To the Friends of Constitutional Liberty : —

There was a time, fellow citizens, when the above address
would have included the People of the United States. But, alas !
the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the right of petition,
are now hated and dreaded by our Southern citizens, as hostile to the
perpetuity of human bondage ; while, by their political influence in the
Federal Government, they have induced numbers at the North to
unite with them in their sacrilegious crusade against these ines-
timable privileges.

On the 2Rth January last, the House of Representatives, on motion
of Mr. Johnson, from Maryland, made it a standing rule of the House
that " no petition, memorial, resolution, or other paper, praying the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or any State or Terri-
tory of the United States, in which it now exists, shall be received by
the House, or entertained in any way whatever."

Thus has the right of petition been immolated in the very Tem-
ple of Liberty, and offered up, a propitiatory sacrifice to the demon of
slavery. Never before has an outrage so unblushingly profligate
been perpetrated upon the Federal Constitution. Yet, while we mourn
the degeneracy which this transaction evinces, we behold, in its attending
circumstances, joyful omens of the triumph which awaits our struggle
with the hateful power that now perverts the General Government
into an engine of cruelty and loathsome oppression.

Before we congratulate you on these omens, let us recall to your
recollection the steps by which the enemies of human rights have
advanced to their present rash and insolent defiance of moral and
constitutional obligation.

In 1831, a newspaper was established in Boston, for the purpose of
disseminating facts and arguments in favor of the duty and policy of
immediate emancipation. The Legislature of Georgia, with all the
recklessness of despotism, passed a law, offering a reward of $5000,

for the abduction of the Editor, and his delivery in Georgia. As there
was no law, by which a citizen of Massachusetts could be tried in
Georgia, for expressing his opinions in the capital of his own State,
this reward was intended as the price of BLOOD. Do you start at the
suggestion 1 Remember the several sums of $25,000, of $50,000,
and of $100,000, offered in Southern papers for kidnapping certain
abolitionists. Remember the horrible inflictions by Southern Lynch
clubs. Remember the declaration, in the United States Senate, by the
brazen-fronted Preston, that, should an abolitionist be caught in Caro-
lina, he would be HANGED. But, as the Slaveholders could not destroy
the lives of the Abolitionists, they determined to murder their charac-
ters. Hence, the President of the United States was induced, in his
Message of 1835, to Congress, to charge them with plotting the
massacre of the Southern planters ; and even to stultify himself, by
affirming that, for this purpose, they were engaged in sending, by mail,
inflammatory appeals to the slaves — sending papers to men who could
not read them, and by a conveyance through which they could not
receive them ! He well knew that the papers alluded to were appeals
on the immorality of converting men, women, and children, into beasts
of burden, and were sent to the masters, for their consideration. The
masters in Charleston, dreading the moral influence of these appeals
on the conscience of the slave holding community, forced the Post
Office, and made a bonfire of the papers. The Post Master General,
with the sanction of the President, also hastened to their relief, and, in
violation of oaths, and laws, and the constitution, established ten thou-
sand censors of the press, each one of whom was authorized to abstract
from the mail every paper which lie might think too favorable to the
rights of man.

For more than twenty years, petitions have been presented to
Congress, for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
The right to present them, and the power of Congress to grant their
prayer, were, until recently, unquestioned. But the rapid multiplica-
tion of these petitions alarmed the slaveholders, and, knowing that they
tended to keep alive at the North, an interest in the slave, they
deemed it good policy to discourage and, if possible, suppress all such
applications. Hence Mr. Pinckney's famous resolution, in 1836, de-
claring, " that all petitions, or papers, relating in any way, or to any
extent whatever to the subject of slavery, shall, without being printed
or referred, be laid on the table ; and no further action, whatever
shall be had thereon !"

The peculiar atrocity of this resolution was, that it not merely
trampled upon the rights of the petitioners, but took from each member

of the House his undoubted privilege, as a legislator of the District,
to introduce any proposition he might think proper, for the
protection of the slaves. In every Slave State there are laws
affording, at least, some nominal protection to these unhappy beings ;
but, according to this resolution, slaves might be flayed alive in the
streets of Washington, and no representative of the people could offer
even a resolution for inquiry. And this vile outrage upon constitu-
tional liberty was avowedly perpetrated " to repress agitation, to allay
excitement, and re-establish harmony and tranquillity among the vari-
ous sections of the Union ! !"

But this strange opiate did not produce the stupefying effects antici-
pated from it. In 1S36, the petitioners were only 37,000 — the next
session they numbered 110,000. Mr. Hawes, of Ky., now essayed
to restore tranquillity, by gagging the uneasy multitude ; but, alas ! at
the next Congress, more than 300,000 petitioners carried new terror
to the hearts of the slaveholders. The next anodyne was prescribed by
Mr. Patton, of Va., but its effect was to rouse from their stupor some
of the Northern Legislatures, and to induce them to denounce his
remedy as " a usurpation of power, a violation of the Constitution, sub-
versive of the fundamental principles of the government, and at war
with the prerogatives of the people."* It was now supposed that the
people must be drugged by a northern man, and Atherton was found a
fit instrument for this vile purpose ; but the dose proved only the more
nauseous and exciting from the foul hands by which it was

In these various outrages, although all action on the petitions was
prohibited, the papers themselves were received and laid on the table,
and therefore it was contended, that the right of petition had been pre-
served inviolate. But the slaveholders, maddened by the failure of
all their devices, and fearing the influence which the mere sight of thou-
sands and tens of thousands of petitions in behalf of liberty, would
exert, and. taking advantage of the approaching presidential election
to operate upon the selfishness of some northern members, have suc-
ceeded in crushing the right of petition itself.

That you may be the more sensible, fellow citizens, of the exceed-
ing profligacy of the late rule and of its palpable violation of both the
spirit and the letter of the Constitution, which those who voted for it
had sworn to support, suffer us to recall to your recollection a few
historical facts.

The framers of the Federal Constitution supposed the right of peti-
tion too firmly established in the habits and affections of the people, to

* Resolutions of Massachusetts and Connecticat, April and May, J 838.

need a constitutional guarantee. Their omission to notice it, roused the
jealousy of some of the State conventions, called to pass upon the con-
stitution. The Virginia convention proposed, as an amendment, " that
every freeman has a right to petition, or apply to the Legislature, for
a redress of grievances." And this amendment, with others, was
ordered to be forwarded to the different States, for their consideration.
The Conventions of North Carolina, New York, and Rhode Island,
were held subsequently, and, of course, had before them the Virginia
amendment. The North Carolina Convention adopted a declaration
of rights, embracing the very words of the proposed amendment ; and
this declaration was ordered to be submitted to Congress, before that
State would enter the Union. The Conventions of New York and of
Rhode Island incorporated in their certificates of ratification, the asser-
tion that " Every person has a right to petition or apply to the legisla-
ture for a redress of grievances" — using the Virginia phraseology,
merely substituting the word person for freeman, thus claiming the
right of petition even for slaves ; while Virginia and North Carolina
confined it to freemen.

The first Congress, assembled under the Constitution, gave effect to
the wishes thus emphatically expressed, by proposing, as an amend-
ment, that " Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the
freedom of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,
and to petition Government for a redress of grievances." This amend-
ment was duly ratified by the States, and when members of Congress
swear to support the Constitution of the United States, they are as
much bound by their oath to refrain from abridging the right of peti-
tion, as they are. to fulfil any other constitutional obligation. And will
the slaveholders and their abettors, dare to maintain that they have
not foresworn themselves, because they have abridged the right of the
people to petition for a redress of grievances, by a rule of
the House, and not by a law? If so, they may by a rule require every
member, on taking his seat, to subscribe the creed of a particular
church, and then call their Maker to witness that they are guiltless of
making a law " respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof."

The right to petition is one thing, and the disposition of a petition
after it is received, is another. But the new rule makes no disposition
of the petitions ; it prohibits their reception ; they may not be
brought into the legislative chamber. Hundreds of thousands of the
people are debarred all access to their representatives, for the purpose
of offering them a prayer.

It is said lhat the manifold abominations perpetrated in the District
are no grievances to the petitioners, and therefore they have no right to
ask for their removal. But ihe right guaranteed by the Constitution, is
a right to ask for the redress of grievances, whether personal, social, or
moral. And who, except a slaveholder, will dare to contend that it is
no grievance that our agents, our representatives, our servants, in our
name and by our authority, enact laws erecting and licensing markets
in the Capital of the Republic, for the sale of human beings, and con-
verting free men into slaves, for no other crime, than that of being too
poor to pay United States' officers the jail fees accruing from an
iniquitous imprisonment ?

Again, it is pretended that the the objects prayed for, arc palpably
unconstitutional, and that therefore the petitions ought not to be received.
And by what authority are the people deprived of their right to petition
for any object which a majority of either House of Congress, for the
time being, may please to regard as unconstitutional 1 If this
usurpation be submitted to, it will not be confined to abolition petitions.
It is well known that most of the slaveholders now insist, that all protect-
ing duties arc unconstitutional, and that on account of the tariff the
Union was nearly rent by the very men who are now horrified by the
danger to which it is exposed by these petitions ! Should our Northern
Manufacturers again presume to ask Congress to protect them from
foreign competition, the Southern members will find a precedent, sanc-
tioned by Northern votes, for a rule that "no petition, memorial,
resolution, or other paper, praying for the imposition of duties for
the encouragement of manufactures, shall be received by the
House, or entertained in any way whatever."

It does indeed, require Southern arrogance, to maintain that, although
Congress is invested by the Constitution with ''exclusive jurisdiction,
in all cases whatsoever," over the District of Columbia, yet that it
would be so palpably unconstitutional to abolish the slave-trade, and to
emancipate the slaves in the District, that petitions for these objects
ought not to be received. Yet this is asserted in that very House, on
whose minutes is recorded a resolution, in 1816, appointing a committee,
with power to send for persons and papers, "to inquire into the exist-
ence of an inhuman and illegal traffic in slaves, carried on, in and
through the District of Columbia, and report whether any, and what
means are necessary for putting a stop to the same :" and another, in
1829, instructing the Committee on the District of Columbia to inquire
into the expediency of providing by law, " for the gradual abolition of
slavery in the District." .

In the very first Congress assembled under the Federal Constitution,


petitions were presented, asking its interposition for the mitigation of
the evils, and final abolition of the African slave-trade, and also pray-
ing it, as far as it possessed the power, to take measures for the aboli-
tion of slavery. These petitions excited the wrath and indignation of
many of the slave-holding members, yet no one thought of refusing to
receive them. They were referred to a select committee, at the in-
stance of Mr. Madison, himself, who "entered into a critical review of
the circumstances respecting the adoption of the Constitution, and the
ideas upon the limitation of the powers of Congress to interfere in the
regulation of the commerce of slaves, and showed that they undoubt-
edly were not precluded from interposing in their importation ; and
generally to regulate the mode in which every species of business
shall be transacted. He adverted to the western country, and the
Cession of Georgia, in which Congress have certainly the power to
regulate the subject of slavery ; which shows that gentlemen are mis-
taken in supposing, that Congress cannot constitutionally interfere in
the business, in any degree, whatever. He was in favor of committing
the petition, and justified the measure by repeated precedents in the
proceedings of the House." — V. S. Gazette, 17th Feb., 1790.

Here we find one of the earliest and ablest expounders of the Con-
stitution, maintaining the power of Congress to " regulate the subject
of slavery" in the national territories, and urging the reference of abo-
lition petitions to a special committee.

The committee made a report ; for which, after a long debate, was
substituted a declaration, by the House, that Congress could not abol-
ish the slave trade prior to the year 1808, but had a right so to regu-
late it as to provide for the humane treatment of the slaves on the pas-
sage ; and that Congress could not interfere in the emancipation or
treatment of slaves in the States.

This declaration gave entire satisfaction, and no farther abolition
petitions were presented, till after the District of Columbia had been
placed under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of the General Government.

You all remember, fellow citizens, the wide-spread excitement which
a few years since prevailed on the subject of Sunday Mails. Instead
of attempting to quiet the agitation, by outraging the rights of the peti-
tioners, Congress referred the petitions to a committee, and made no
attempt to stifle discussion.

Why, then, we ask, with such authorities and precedents before them,
do the slaveholders in Congress, regardless of their oaths, strive to
gag the friends of freedom, under pretence of allaying agitation ? Be-
cause conscience does make cowards of them all — because they know
the accursed system they are upholding will not bear the light — be-

cause they fear, if these petitions are discussed, the abominations of
the American slave trade, the secrets of the prison-houses in Washing-
ton and Alexandria, and the horrors of the human shambles licensed by
the authority of Congress, will be exposed to the scorn and indignation
of the civilized world.

Unquestionably the late rule surpasses, in its profligate contempt of
constitutional obligation, any act in the annals of the Federal Govern-
ment. As such it might well strike every patriot with dismay, were
it not that attending circumstances teach us that it is the expiring effort
of desperation. When we reflect on the past subserviency of our
northern representatives to the mandates of the slaveholders, we may
well raise, on the present occasion, the shout of triumph, and hail the
vote on the recent rule as the pledge of a glorious victory. Suffer us
to recall to your recollection the majorities by which the successive
attempts to crush the right of petition and the freedom of debate have
been carried.

Pinckney's Gag was passed May, 1836, by a majority of 51
Hawes's do. . . Jan. 1837, . . 58

Patton's do. . . Dec. 1837, . .48

Atherton's do. . . Dec. 1838, . . .48
Johnson's do. . . Jan. 1840, . . .0
Surely, when we find the majority against us reduced from 58 to 6,
we need no new incentive to perseverance.

Another circumstance which marks the progress of constitutional
liberty, is the gradual diminution in the number of our northern serviles.
The votes from j the free States in favor of the several gags were as
follows : —

For Pinckney's ..... 62

For Hawes's 70

For Patton's 52

ForAtherton's 49

For Johnson's ..... 28
There is also another cheering fact connected with the passage of
the rule which deserves to be noticed. Heretofore the slaveholders
have uniformly, by enforcing the previous question, imposed their sev-
eral gags by a silent vote. On the present occasion they were twice
baffled in their efforts to stifle debate, and were, for days together,
compelled to listen to speeches on a subject which they have so often
declared should not be discussed.

A base strife for southern votes has hitherto, to no small extent,

enlisted both the political parties at the north in the service of the slave-

holders. The late unwonted independence of northern politicians, and

the deference paid by them to the wishes of their own constituents, in



preference to those of their southern colleagues, indicates the advance
of public opinion. No less than 49 northern members of the adminis.
tration party voted for the Atherton gag, while only 27 dared to record
their names in favor of Johnson's ; and of the representation of SIX
States, every vote was given against the rule, without distinction of
party. The tone in which opposite political journals denounce the late
outrage may warn the slaveholders that they will not much longer hold
the north in bonds. The leading administration paper in the city of
New York regards the rule with " utter abhorrence ;" while the offi-
cial paper of the opposition, edited by the state printer, trusts that the
names of the recreant northerners who voted for it may be " handed
down to eternal infamy and execration."

The advocates of abolition are no longer consigned to unmitigated
contempt and obloquy. Passing by the various living illustrations of
our remark, we appeal for our proofs to the dead. The late William
Leggett, the editor of a Democratic Journal in the city of New York,
was denounced, in 1S35, by the " Democratic Republican General
Committee," for his abolition doctrines. Far from faltering in his
course, on account of the censure of his own party, he exclaimed, with
a presentiment almost amounting to prophecy, " The stream of public
opinion now sets against us, but it is about to turn, and the regurgita-
tion will be tremendous. Proud in that day may well be the man who
can float in triumph on the first refluent wave, swept onward by the
deluge which he himself, in advance of his fellows, had largely shared
in occasioning. Such be my fate ; and, living or dying, it will in some
measure be mine. I have written my name in ineffaceable letters on
the abolition record." And he did live to behold the first swelling of


the refluent wave. The denounced abolitionist was honored by a de-
mocratic President with a diplomatic mission ; and since his death, the
resolution condemning him has been expunged from the minutes of
the democratic committee.

Of the many victims of the recent awful calamity in our waters,
what name has been most frequently uttered by the pulpit and the press
in the accents of lamentation and panegyric ? On whose tomb have
freedom, philanthropy, and letters been invoked to strew their funeral
wreaths 1 All who have heard of the loss of the Lexington are familiar
with the name of Charles Follen. And who was he ? One of the
men officially denounced by President Jackson as a gang of miscreants,
plotting insurrection and murder — and, recently, a member of the
Executive Committee of the American Anti. Slavery Society.

Let us then, fellow citizens, in view of all these things, thank God
and take courage. We are now contending, not merely for the eman-
cipation of our unhappy fellow men. kept in bondage under the autho.


rity of our own representatives — not merely for tlie overthrow of the


Online LibraryAmerican anti-slavery societyAddress to the friends of contitutional liberty, on the violation by the United States House of representatives of the right of petition → online text (page 1 of 2)