Benjamin Franklin Thomas.

Speeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) online

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customs of the same realm or by acts of Parliament ; and whereas
no offender, of what kind soever, is exempted from the proceedings to
be used, and punishments to be inflicted, by the laws and statutes of
this your realm ; nevertheless, of late time, divers commissions, under
your majesty's great seal, have issued forth, by which certain persons
have been assigned and appointed commissioners, with power and


authority to proceed within the land, according to the justice of mar-
tial law, against such soldiers or marines, or other dissolute persons
joining with them, as should commit any murder, robbery, felony,
mutiny, or other outrage or misdemeanor whatever, and by such sum-
mary course and order as is agreeable to martial law, and $s is used
in armies in time of war, to proceed to the trial and condemnation of
such offenders, and them to cause to be executed and put to death
according to the law-martial :

" By pretext whereof, some of your majesty's subjects have been,
by some of the said commissioners, put to death, when and where, if
hy the laws and statutes of the land they had deserved death, hy the same
laivs and statutes also they might, and by no other ought to, have been
judged and executed."

You will not fail to observe, Mr. Speaker, that there
is no complaint that the writs of habeas corpus were not
issued. They were issued, and the subjects brought
before justice, and the keepers commanded to certify the
cause of their detainer. The ground of complaint is,
that no cause was certified, but that the subjects were
detained hy his majesty s sjjecial coynmand, and were
returned to prison without being charged with any thing
to vjhich they might make answer according to the law.
The " privilege of the writ " was suspended. This is all
that can be done, under the Constitution, by Congress
or the Executive, or both combined.

Again: observe the lofty moral ground a Puritan
Parliament assumes. It concedes that the persons
against whom the "justice of martial law" has been
used might be " dissolute, and such as should commit
mui'der, robbery, felony, mutiny, and other outrages and
misdemeanors ; " but it never occurred to the great au-
thors of this Petition that men charged with crimes " had
no rights." They knew, as we know, that when men


were the objects of hatred or suspicion, it was then, and
chiefly then, they needed the shield and protection of
standing laws.

The 'Puritan Parliament goes on to pray (demand)
that the commission for proceeding " by martial law" may
be revoked, and that thereafter no commissions of a like
nature may issue. To which, in full Parliament, the
king answered, "Soit droit comme il est desiree."

I regret my time will not permit us to hear every word
of this gospel of personal liberty. If the Puritans had
given us nothing more, our debt of gratitude could never
be paid. The writ of habeas corpus of Charles II. did
not enlarge these liberties. It was remedial only. As
such, it was highly beneficial ; but it conferred no new
right. " Its office," says Hallam, " was to cut off" the
abuses by which the Government's lust of power, and
the servile subtilty of crown lawyers, had impaired so
fundamental a privilege."

If we cross the ocean with the Pilgrims, we shall find
them not only affirming, but strengthening, the muni-
ments of personal liberty. Proof of this may be found
in the "Body of Liberties" enacted by the Colony of
Massachusetts in 1641. (I hope I shall be pardoned
for taking Massachusetts, the mother-colony, as an illus-
tration.) Let me, Mr. Speaker, have two or three of
these " Liberties " read, to show their general temper and
spirit, and how grossly the colonists have been misun-
derstood : —

" The free fruition of such liberties, immunities, and privileges as
humanity, civility, and Christianity call for as due to every man in his
place and proportion, without impeachment and infringement, hath


ever been, and ever will be, the tranquillity and stability of churches
and commonwealths ; and the denial or deprival thereof, the distiu'b-
ance, if not the ruin, of both."

In God's name, amen ! Heart and head say, amen !

"No man's life shall be taken away; no man's honor or good
name shall be stained ; no man's person shall be arrested, restrained,
banished, dismembered, nor any loays punished; no man shall be
deprived of his wife or children ; no man's goods or estate shall
be taken away from him, nor any way endangered, under color of law,
or countenance of authority, unless it be by virtue or equity of some
express law of the country warranting the same, established by a
General Court, and sufficiently published ; or, in case of the defect of
a law in any particular case, by the word of God ; and in capital
cases, or in cases concerning dismembering or banishment, according
to that word to be judged by the General Court."

Magna Carta planted on the soil of the New World.

" Every man, whether inhabitant or foreigner, free or not free,
shall have liberty to come to any public court, council, or town-meet-
ing ; and, either by speech or writing, to move any lawful, season-
able, and material question, or to present any necessary motion,
complaint, petition, bill, or information, whereof that meeting hath
proper cognizance, so it be done in convenient time, due order, and
respective [respectful] manner."

Was ever the sacred right of petition made so prac-
tical and effective?

" No man's person shall be restrained or imprisoned by any authori-
ty whatsoever before the law hath sentenced him thereto, if he can
put in sufficient security, bail, or mainprise for his appearance, and
good behavior in the mean time, unless it be in crimes capital, and con-
tempts in open court, and in such cases where some express act of
court doth allow it.

" Every man that is to answer for any criminal cause, whether he
be in prison or under bail, his cause shall be heard and determined at
the next court that hath proper cognizance thereof, and may be done
without prejudice of justice.

" No church censure shall degrade or depose any man from any
civil dignity, office, or authority he shall have in the Commonwealth.



" We likewise give full power and liberty, to any person that shall
at any time be denied or deprived of any of these liberties, to com-
mence and prosecute their suit, complaint, or action, against every
man that shall so do, in any court that hath proper cognizance or
judicature thereof."

These humble colonists comprehended that there
could be no justice which was not remedial ; or where
the way to redress was blocked at every step.

Now, I do not contend, Mr. Speaker, that the found-
ers of New England were always true to their own pro-
fessions, always realized their own ideal. Far from it :
they had not only the infirmities of the race, but the
superstitions and weaknesses of their time ; when the
powers of light were in struggle with those of dark-
ness, and held divided empire. This I claim for them,
that they apprehended the dawning light, and wove its
golden threads into the texture of their political fabric.
Theirs was the toil of the distaff: ours, the robe of

"Be to their faults a little blind;
Be to their virtues very kind."

The founders, and four generations of their descend-
ants, have passed away. Massachusetts, having re-
nounced her allegiance to the British Crown, and in the
midst of a terrible struggle to make good the declara-
tion, repairs the framework of her government. The
people will have a broad, comprehensive declaration of
rights precede the first grant of power. Opening with
the averment, that all men are born free and equal ;
with the recognition of their duty to worship God, and
of the right to worship him according to the dictates of
conscience ; that government is instituted for the people,


and all its just powers derived from them ; this declara-
tion proceeds to define and secure the rights of personal
liberty. The Constitution of Massachusetts makes it
the duty of her public servants frequently to recur to
and faithfully to observe these principles. At the risk
of tasking your patience, I will recur to and read a
few of the more vital. They are the beacon-lights of
our history. Let us pray the time may not come when
they shall serve only as monuments and memorials of a
better age.

" Eveiy subject of the Commonwealth ought to find a certain reme-
dy^ hy having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which he
may receive in his person, property, or character.

" No person shall be arrested, imprisoned, or despoiled, or deprived
of his property, immunities, or privileges, put out of the protection of
the law, exiled, or deprived of his life, liberty, or estate, but by the
judgment of his peers or the law of the land.

" Every person has a right to be secure from all unreasonable
searches and seizures of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his
possessions. All warrants, therefore, are contrary to this right, if the
cause or foundation of them he not previously supported by oath or

" The liberty of the press is essential to security of freedom in a
State : it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this Common-

" The military power shall alioays he held in exact suhordination to
the civil authority, and he governed hy it.

" The power of suspending the laws, or the execution of the laws,
ought not to he exercised but by the Legislature, or by authority derived
from it ; to be exercised in such particular cases only as the Legisla-
ture shall expressly provide for.

" No person can, in any case, he subject to laiv-martial, or to any
penalties or pains by virtue of that law, except those engaged in the
army or navy, and except the militia in actual service, hut hy autho-
rity of the Legislature."


Mr. Speaker, these principles have been instilled into
me from childhood. I drank them in with my mother s
milk. They come to me crowned with precious ances-
tral memories. They are bone of my bone, flesh of my
flesh, of the very warp and woof of my being, ^hey
define for me the word " liberty," the bright particular
jewel of which the forms of free government are but the
setting. I can understand the change in the setting : I
cannot understand the crushing of the jewel. These
principles have been my counsellors here : I have walked
in their path ; I have been guided by their light. My
sense of what fidelity to them required has compelled
me to dissent from some of the measures of the Admin-
istration ; nay, more, earnestly to oppose them. I have
regretted the occasion, but have had no question as to
my duty ; and, without a shadow of fear or distrust, I
abide, the hour of excitement and passion past, the sober
judgment of the Commonwealth of my love and pride.
God bless her, whether she condemn or uphold !

To return. When, eight years later, the question as
to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States
was presented to the people of Massachusetts, they
objected that no Bill of Rights was made part of the
nation's supreme law. They led the way in the adop-
tion of the amendments which make up our national
Magna Carta. Articles two, three, six, seven, and ten,
are from the Massachusetts Bill of Rights. Articles
one, four, five, and eight, are found in our Bill of
Rights, but were substantially taken from the Declara-
tion of Rights of Virginia in 1776.

These facts show the traditional, settled policy of


Massachusetts. Her personal-liberty bills had their
origin in this her lifelong devotion to this policy ; in the
desire of her people to give to the humblest man on her
soil, to the fugitive from bondage, the presumptions of
the common law, and habeas coiyus, and trial by jury.
I do not say, her legislation did not overstep the just
boundary between the powers of the State and National
Governments : I think it did. But, having had occasion
to examine carefully that legislation, I do say, that its
character has been grossly misrepresented. I do aver,
that in no respect in which that legislation passed a
hair's-breadth the line of State powers has it been sus-
tained by the judiciary of the State. I do say, that there
never has been a day or hour, when the arrest of any
fugitive from service has been defeated by any statute
of Massachusetts recognized and enforced by its judi-
cial tribunals. I do aver, that by no law or judicial
decree in that Commonwealth have the rights of any
one master, in any one case, been destroyed or impaired.
I always opposed that legislation, because I felt it was
incapable of doing any legal, substantial good, and wa^
not, in spirit, loyal to the Union ; because it wounded
and grieved the friends of the Union. The traitors who
brooded over and gave life and form to this Kebellion
knew full well that their rights had never been impaired
by these laws ; and were driven to the shallow pretence,
that the void act of a State Legislature, not upheld by
its courts or executive, had the effect to nullify acts of
Congress, and prevent their execution. See the ordi-
nance of secession of South CaroHna; false premises
leading to false conclusions.


A people willing to risk so much to guard the rights
of the fugitive from service cannot fail to view with
deep sensibility the arrests made in the peaceful and
loyal States, where no plea of necessity now obtains,
whose usual channels of justice are unobstructed, in
violation of the muniments of liberty, to illustrate and
secure which has been their glory and pride. They
cannot but regard with distrust, if not with indignation,
the subtile lawyer and the time-serving politician, who
not only defend, but stimulate and encourage them.
They cannot but deprecate the recurrence of acts which
serve only to weaken the love of Union, and to encour-
age and give comfort to its foes.

Let us turn now, for a moment, to the debt which The
Union owes to New England. As I have before sug-
gested, the germ of the Union is to be found in the con-
federation of the New-England Colonies in 1643, with
its Union army of two hundred and thirty-five men.
In the articles of this confederation may be found the
great idea and thought, embodied and made effective in
the Constitution, the reconciliation of central power
with local independence ; for security against dangers
without, and conflicts within, mutual protection and
reciprocal dependence ; for domestic institutions and lo-
cal interests, independence and entire self-control. The
distribution of powers between the central Government
and the States, and the States and the municipalities, is
the great political thought which we have organized and
illustrated ; unity without centralization, unity with di-
versities of policy and operation. The result of unity
with centralization would be despotism, whatever the


outward form: the fruit of unity with diversity has
been the most- beautiful illustration the world has seen
of the largest liberty blended with the firmest order.
This humble confederation formed the first American
Union, and contained the first fugitive-slave law.

If we come down to the Eevolution, the labors and
sacrifices of the New-England Colonies are matters of
the most familiar history. Their present is trembling
in the balance ; theii- future is with God ; their past has
stood before the judgment-seat, and has put on the
white robe. Rich as the country may be with glorious
memories, she cannot part with these. The heavens
may burn with other celestial lights ; the mariner will
not spare the north star. The New-England Colonies
inaugurated the Eevolution. The first blood was spilt
upon their soil. The four New-England Colonies, with
a population not exceeding nine hundred thousand, fur-
nished to the war (in continental troops and militia)
over one hundred and forty-seven thousand men. With
one-third of the population of the United Colonies, they
furnished two-thirds of all the troops ; Massachusetts
raising some twelve thousand more than the six Southern
States. This is said in no spirit of boasting, Mr.
Speaker ; but, when our lot and right in the homestead
are questioned, it is not ungraceful to allude to our
labors in securing it.

To the administration and poUcy of Washington, New
England was a firm and unwavering friend. For sixty
years, her politics, with slight departures, were of his
school. Need I say, that, if the policy and counsels of
the Father of his Country had been followed by the


whole country, this terrible civil war would have been
averted; that, since the resolutions of 1798, we have
increased the centrifugal forces of the Government, in-
stead of the centripetal ; have thought too much of the
States, and too little of " that unity of government which
constitutes us one people " ? «

There was a brief time, indeed, when New England,
her commerce paralyzed, her industry prostrated, by the
policy of the National Government, seemed to be start-
ing from her sphere ; but she soon easily and naturally
resumed her wonted orbit of order, law, and obedience.
From the peace of 1815 to 1850, faithful to the Consti-
tution and the Union, she advocated broad and national
views of the Constitution, and a liberal use of the powers
of the General Government for the development of the
industry and material resources of the country.

New England is often reproached on this floor for
the Tariff policy of the Government. She did not in-
augurate the policy. It was not her' choice. When the
country embarked in it, and the industry and capital of
New England had been diverted to manufactures, she
felt, and justly, that they had a claim to the continued
care and protection of the Government. At no time
since the inauguration of this policy has she controlled
the counsels of the Administration ; and, for the greater
part of the time, she has had a limited influence in those
counsels. She has, indeed, believed that such an ad-
justment of duties on imports as would protect our
industry was just and wise and beneficent for all parts
of the country ; but, for the inaugurating and establish-
ing the tariff policy, she may not claim the credit, and
is not responsible.


The charge against New England, of a narroio and
illiberal policy towards the West, is also without the least
foundation in fact. In his great speech in reply to Mr.
Hayne, in 1830, Mr. Webster indignantly repelled the
charge, then first conjured up, for narrow party pur-
poses : ^

" I deny that the East has at any time shown an illiberal policy
towards the West. I pronounce the whole accusation to be without
the least foundation in any facts existing either now or at any pre-
vious time, I deny it in the general, and I deny each and all its
particulars. I deny the sum total, and I deny the detail. I deny
that the East has ever manifested hostility to the West, and I deny that
she has adopted any policy that would naturally have led her to such
a course."

With respect to the distribution of the public lands,
the Governor of Massachusetts, and one of her wisest
sons (John Davis), in 18-41, in a special message to the
Legislature, declared " that the new States were entitled
to a more liberal share of the public lands than the old
States, as we owe to their enterprise much of the value
the property has acquired." And a resolution was passed
by the Legislature, declaring,

" That, in the disposition of the public lands, this Commonwealth
approves of making liberal provisions for the new States ; and that
she ever has been, and still is, ready to co-operate with other portions
of the Union in securing to these States such provisions."

Equally just and liberal has been the course of New
England in relation to the system of internal improve-
ments in the new States. Said Mr. Webster, in the
speech before referred to,

" I assert, boldly, that in all measures conducive to the welfare of
the West, since my acquaintance hei'e, no part of the country has
manifested a more liberal policy. I beg to say, sir, that I do not




state this with a view of claiming for her any special regard on that
account. Not at all. She does not place her support of measures
on the ground of favor conferred. Far otherwise. What she has
done has been consonant to her view of the general good, and there-
fore she has done it. She has sought to make no gain of it : on the
contrary, individuals may have felt, undoubtedly, some natural regret
at finding the relative importance of their own States diminished by
the growth of the West. New England has regarded that as the
natural course of things, and has never complained of it. Let me see
any one measure favorable to the West which has been opposed by
New England, since the Government bestowed its attention on these
western improvements. Select what you will, if it be a measure of
acknowledged utility, I answer for it, it will be found that not only
were New-England votes cast for it, but New-England votes secured
its passage."

That her course since 1830 has been equally just and
liberal, the records of both Houses of Congress attest.

For the great system of internal improvements, the re-
sult of private enterprise, by which the Valley of the
Mississippi has been brought so near to us, and its vast
material resources so marvellously and rapidly devel-
oped, the West is to a very large extent indebted to the
capital and enterprise of New England. Capital was
doubtless seeking a profitable investment ; but the in-
vestments would not have been made but for the large
reciprocal trust and confidence between New England
and the West.

Five hundred million dollars, a liberal share of the
amount from New England, have been expended in
the canals and railroads constructed to give to the great
lakes a new outlet to the sea. The great consumers of
the products of the free States in this valley are north-
east of it. Forty-nine fiftieths of the cereals of the
North-west, seeking a foreign market, find their way, by


these new channels of communication, to the tide-waters
at New York. The real mouths of the Mississippi open
to the North-east. Art, labor, and the iron will of man,
are stronger than Nature, and mould and bend her to
their purposes. Ties of birth, kindred, marriage, early
associations, mem(jries of fatherland, common institu-
tions, common culture, thought, faith, reciprocal and
interdependent interests, bind the North and West to-
gether. Crafty and selfish politicians cannot sever them.
They can sever from themselves the affection and con-
fidence of the people of both sections. They can leave
themselves out in the cold.

Such, Mr. Speaker, briefly, hastily stated, were the
principles and traditional policy of New England to
the close of the first half of the present century.

I do not shrink from the consideration of her position
and relations to the Union for the last twelve years, or
her position to-day. I must speak freely, and with the
love that casteth out fear. I am not insensible of
the power which radical, not to say disorganizing, revo-
lutionary views have acquired among us ; the setting-up
of private speculations and feeling under the guise of
" higher law," and party formulas and dogmas above
the obligations of duty and the mandates of the supreme
law of the land.

There are, I know, men in New England who are
opposed to the existing Union, to " any union with slave
States." They control, to some extent, the political
machinery of the States. They are the channels through
which the honors and patronage of the National Go-
vernment are chiefly distributed. They are men of


talent, culture, ubiquity, and intense activity ; an activity
and ubiquity that supply the place of numbers. Some
of our pulpits and presses catch and reflect the glow of
their fiery zeal. These, Mr. Speaker, are not Puritans,
nor the children of the Puritans. They have wandered
from the fold and faith of their fathers. Government,
to them, has no root in the divine will or counsels.
They know not, they cannot understand, the liberty of
obedience. They do not recognize the truth, that the

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Online LibraryBenjamin Franklin ThomasSpeeches in the second and third sessions of the Thirty-seventh Congress, and in the vacation (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 15)