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states are solemnly called upon by the Virginia Legislature, to amend
that instrument by a clause asserting that, in the grant to Congress of
"exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the District, the
"case" of slavery is not included!! What could have dictated such a
resolution but the conviction that the power to abolish slavery is an
irresistible inference from the constitution _as it is?_ The fact that
the same legislature, passed afterward a resolution, though by no means
unanimously, that Congress does not possess the power, abates not a
title of the testimony in the first resolution. March 23d, 1824, "Mr.
Brown presented the resolutions of the General Assembly of Ohio,
recommending to Congress the consideration of a system for the gradual
emancipation of persons of color held in servitude in the United
States." On the same day, "Mr. Noble, of Indiana, communicated a
resolution from the legislature of that state, respecting the gradual
emancipation of slaves within the United States." Journal of the United
States' Senate, for 1824-5, p.231.

The Ohio and Indiana resolutions, by taking for granted the _general_
power of Congress over the subject of slavery, do virtually assert its
_special_ power within its _exclusive_ jurisdiction.

5. THIS POWER HAS BEEN CONCEDED BY BODIES OF CITIZENS IN THE SLAVE
STATES. The petition of eleven hundred citizens of the District, has
been already mentioned. "March 5,1830, Mr. Washington presented a
memorial of inhabitants of the county of Frederick, in the state of
Maryland, praying that provision be made for the gradual abolition of
slavery in the District of Columbia." Journal H.R. 1829-30, p. 358.

March 30, 1828. Mr. A.H. Shepperd, of North Carolina, presented a
memorial of citizens of that state, "praying Congress to take measures
for the entire abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia."
Journal H.R. 1829-30, p. 379.

January 14, 1822. Mr. Rhea, of Tennessee, presented a memorial of
citizens of that state, praying that "provision may be made, whereby all
slaves that may hereafter be born in the District of Columbia, shall be
free at a certain period of their lives." Journal H.R. 1821-22, p.142.

December 13, 1824. Mr. Saunders of North Carolina, presented a memorial
of the citizens of that state, praying "that measures may be taken for
the gradual abolition of slavery in the United States." Journal H.R.
1824-25, p.27.

December 16, 1828. "Mr. Barnard presented the memorial of the American
Convention for promoting the abolition of slavery, held in Baltimore,
praying that slavery may be abolished in the District of Columbia."
Journal U.S. Senate, 1828-29, p.24.

6. DISTINGUISHED STATESMEN AND JURISTS IN THE SLAVEHOLDING STATES, HAVE
CONCEDED THIS POWER. The testimony Of Messrs. Doddridge, and Powell, of
Virginia, Chief Justice Cranch, and Judges Morsel and Van Ness, of the
District, has already been given. In the debate in Congress on the
memorial of the Society of Friends, in 1790, Mr. Madison, in speaking of
the territories of the United States, explicitly declared, from his own
knowledge of the views of the members of the convention that framed the
constitution, as well as from the obvious import of its terms, that in
the territories, "Congress have certainly the power to regulate the
subject of slavery." Congress can have no more power over the
territories than that of "exclusive legislation in all cases
whatsoever," consequently, according to Mr. Madison, "it has certainly
the power to regulate the subject of slavery in the" _District_. In
March, 1816, Mr. Randolph of Virginia, introduced a resolution for
putting a stop to the domestic slave trade within the District. December
12, 1827, Mr. Barney, of Maryland, presented a memorial for abolition in
the District, and moved that it be printed. Mr. McDuffie, of S.C.,
objected to the printing, but "expressly admitted the right of Congress
to grant to the people of the District any measure which they might deem
necessary to free themselves from the deplorable evil." - [See letter of
Mr. Claiborne of Miss. to his constituents published in the Washington
Globe, May 9, 1836.] The sentiments of Mr. Clay of Kentucky, on the
subject are well known. In a speech before the U.S. Senate, in 1836, he
declared the power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District
"unquestionable." Messrs. Blair, of Tennessee, and Chilton, Lyon, and
R.M. Johnson, of Kentucky, A.H. Shepperd, of N.C., Messrs. Armstrong and
Smyth of Va., Messrs. Dorsey, Archer, and Barney, of Md., and Johns, of
Del., with numerous others from slave states have asserted the power of
Congress to abolish slavery in the District. In the speech of Mr. Smyth,
of Virginia, on the Missouri question, January 28, 1820, he says on this
point: "If the future freedom of the blacks is your real object, and not
a mere pretence, why do you begin _here_? Within the ten miles square,
you have _undoubted power_ to exercise exclusive legislation. _Produce a
bill to emancipate the slaves in the District of Columbia_, or, if you
prefer it, to emancipate those born hereafter."

To this may be added the testimony of the present Vice President of the
United States, Hon. Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky. In a speech before
the U.S. Senate, February 1, 1820, (National Intelligencer, April 29,
1829,) he says: "In the District of Columbia, containing a population of
30,000 souls, and probably as many slaves as the whole territory of
Missouri, THE POWER OF PROVIDING FOR THEIR EMANCIPATION RESTS WITH
CONGRESS ALONE. Why then, this heart-rending sympathy for the slaves of
Missouri, and this cold insensibility, this eternal apathy, towards the
slaves in the District of Columbia?"

It is quite unnecessary to add, that the most distinguished northern
statesmen of both political parties, have always affirmed the power of
Congress to abolish slavery in the District. President Van Buren in his
letter of March 6, 1836, to a committee of Gentlemen in North Carolina,
says, "I would not, from the light now before me, feel myself safe in
pronouncing that Congress does not possess the power of abolishing
slavery in the District of Columbia." This declaration of the President
is consistent with his avowed sentiments touching the Missouri question,
on which he coincided with such men as Daniel D. Thompkins, De Witt
Clinton, and others, whose names are a host.[A] It is consistent, also
with his recommendation in his last message, in which speaking of the
District, he strongly urges upon Congress "a thorough and careful
revision of its local government," speaks of the "entire independence"
of the people of the District "upon Congress," recommends that a
"uniform system of local government" be adopted, and adds, that
"although it was selected as the seat of the General Government, the
site of its public edifices, the depository of its archives, and the
residences of officers intrusted with large amounts of public property,
and the management of public business, yet it never has been subjected
to, or received, that _special_ and _comprehensive_ legislation which
these circumstances peculiarly demanded."

[Footnote A: Mr. Van Buren, when a member of the Senate of New-York,
voted for the following preamble and resolutions, which passed
unanimously: - Jan. 28th, 1820. "Whereas the inhibiting the further
extension of slavery in the United States, is a subject of deep concern
to the people of this state: and whereas, we consider slavery as an evil
much to be deplored, and that _every constitutional barrier should be
interposed to prevent its further extension_: and that the constitution
of the United States _clearly gives Congress the right_ to require new
states, not comprised within the original boundary of the United States,
to _make the prohibition of slavery_ a condition of their admission into
the Union: Therefore,

Resolved, That our Senators be instructed, and our members of
Congress be requested, to oppose the admission as a state into the
Union, of any territory not comprised as aforesaid, without making
_the prohibition of slavery_ therein an indispensible condition of
admission."
]

The tenor of Mr. Tallmadge's speech on the right of petition, and of Mr.
Webster's on the reception of abolition memorials, may be taken as
universal exponents of the sentiments of northern statesmen as to the
power of Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

An explicit declaration, that an "_overwhelming majority_" of the
_present_ Congress concede the power to abolish slavery in the District
has just been made by Robert Barnwell Rhett, a member of Congress from
South Carolina, in a letter published in the Charleston Mercury of Dec.
27, 1837. The following is an extract:

"The time has arrived when we must have new guaranties under the
constitution, or the Union must be dissolved. _Our views of the
constitution are not those of the majority_. AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY
_think that by the constitution, Congress may abolish slavery in the
District of Columbia - may abolish the slave trade between the States;
that is, it may prohibit their being carried out of the State in which
they are - and prohibit it in all the territories, Florida among them.
They think_, NOT WITHOUT STRONG REASONS, _that the power of Congress
extends to all of these subjects_."

_Direct testimony_ to show that the power of Congress to abolish slavery
in the District, has always till recently been _universally conceded_,
is perhaps quite superfluous. We subjoin, however, the following:

The Vice-President of the United States in his speech on the Missouri
question, quoted above, after contending that the restriction of slavery
in Missouri would be unconstitutional, declares, that the power of
Congress over slavery in the District "COULD NOT BE QUESTIONED." In the
speech of Mr. Smyth, of Va., also quoted above, he declares the power of
Congress to abolish slavery in the District to be "UNDOUBTED."

Mr. Sutherland, of Penn., in a speech in the House of Representatives,
on the motion to print Mr. Pinckney's Report, is thus reported in the
Washington Globe, of May 9th, '36. "He replied to the remark that the
report conceded that Congress had a right to legislate upon the subject
in the District of Columbia, and said that SUCH A RIGHT HAD NEVER BEEN,
TILL RECENTLY, DENIED."

The American Quarterly Review, published at Philadelphia, with a large
circulation and list of contributors in the slave states, holds the
following language in the September No. 1833, p. 55: "Under this
'exclusive jurisdiction,' granted by the constitution, Congress has
power to abolish slavery and the slave trade in the District of
Columbia. It would hardly be necessary to state this as a distinct
proposition, had it not been occasionally questioned. The truth of the
assertion, however, is too obvious to admit of argument - and we believe
has NEVER BEEN DISPUTED BY PERSONS WHO ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE
CONSTITUTION."

OBJECTIONS TO THE FOREGOING CONCLUSIONS CONSIDERED.

We now proceed to notice briefly the main arguments that have been
employed in Congress and elsewhere against the power of Congress to
abolish slavery in the District. One of the most plausible is, that "the
conditions on which Maryland and Virginia ceded the District to the
United States, would be violated, if Congress should abolish slavery
there." The reply to this is, that Congress had no power to _accept_ a
cession coupled with conditions restricting that "power of exclusive
legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District," which was
given it by the constitution.

To show the futility of the objection, we insert here the acts of
cession. The cession of Maryland was made in November, 1788, and is as
follows: "An act to cede to Congress a district of ten miles square in
this state for the seat of the government of the United States."

"Be it enacted, by the General Assembly of Maryland, that the
representatives of this state in the House of Representatives of the
Congress of the United States, appointed to assemble at New-York, on the
first Wednesday of March next, be, and they are; hereby authorized and
required on the behalf of this state, to cede to the Congress of the
United States, any district in this state, not exceeding ten miles
square, which the Congress may fix upon, and accept for the seat of
government of the United States." Laws of Md., v. 2., c. 46.

The cession of Virginia was made on the 3d of December, 1788, in the
following words:

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That a tract of country, not
exceeding ten miles square, or any lesser quantity, to be located within
the limits of the State, and in any part thereof; as Congress may, by
law, direct, shall be, and the same is hereby forever ceded and
relinquished to the Congress and Government of the United States, in
full and absolute right, and exclusive jurisdiction, as well of soil, as
of persons residing or to reside thereon, pursuant to the tenor and
effect of the eighth section of the first article of the government of
the constitution of the United States."

But were there no provisos to these acts? The Maryland act had _none_.
The Virginia act had this proviso: "Sect. 2. Provided, that nothing
herein contained, shall be construed to vest in the United States any
right of property in the soil, or to affect the rights of individuals
_therein_, otherwise than the same shall or may be transferred by such
individuals to the United States."

This specification touching the soil was merely definitive and
explanatory of that clause in the act of cession, "_full and absolute
right_." Instead of restraining the power of Congress on _slavery_ and
other subjects, it even gives it freer course; for exceptions to _parts_
of a rule, give double confirmation to those parts not embraced in the
exceptions. If it was the _design_ of the proviso to restrict
congressional action on the subject of _slavery_, why is the _soil
alone_ specified? As legal instruments are not paragons of economy in
words, might not "John Doe," out of his abundance, and without spoiling
his style, have afforded an additional word - at least a hint - that
slavery was _meant_, though nothing was said about it?

But again, Maryland and Virginia, in their acts of cession, declare them
to be made "in pursuance of" that clause of the constitution which gives
to Congress "exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the ten
miles square - thus, instead of _restricting_ that clause, both States
_confirm_ it. Now, their acts of cession either accorded with that
clause of the constitution, or they conflicted with it. If they
conflicted with it, _accepting_ the cessions was a violation of the
constitution. The fact that Congress accepted the cessions, proves that
in its views their _terms_ did not conflict with its constitutional
grant of power. The inquiry whether these acts of cession were
consistent or inconsistent with the United Status' constitution, is
totally irrelevant to the question at issue. What with the CONSTITUTION?
That is the question. Not, what with Virginia, or Maryland, or - equally
to the point - John Bull! If Maryland and Virginia had been the
authorized interpreters of the constitution for the Union, these acts of
cession could hardly have been more magnified than they have been
recently by the southern delegation in Congress. A true understanding of
the constitution can be had, forsooth, only by holding it up in the
light of Maryland and Virginia legislation!

We are told, again, that those States would not have ceded the District
if they had supposed the constitution gave Congress power to abolish
slavery in it.

This comes with an ill grace from Maryland and Virginia. They _knew_ the
constitution. They were parties to it. They had sifted it, clause by
clause, in their State conventions. They had weighed its words in the
balance - they had tested them as by fire; and, finally, after long
pondering, they adopted the constitution. And _afterward_, self-moved,
they ceded the ten miles square, and declared the cession made "in
pursuance of" that oft-cited clause, "Congress shall have power to
exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such
District." And now verily "they would not have ceded if they had
_supposed_!" &c. Cede it they _did_, and in "full and absolute right
both of soil and persons." Congress accepted the cession - state power
over the District ceased, and congressional power over it
commenced, - and now, the sole question to be settled is, the _amount of
power over the District lodged in Congress by the constitution_. The
constitution - THE CONSTITUTION - that is the point. Maryland and Virginia
"suppositions" must be potent suppositions to abrogate a clause of the
United States' Constitution! That clause either gives Congress power to
abolish slavery in the District, or it does _not_ - and that point is to
be settled, not by state "suppositions," nor state usages, nor state
legislation, but _by the terms of the clause themselves_.

Southern members of Congress, in the recent discussions, have conceded
the power of a contingent abolition in the District, by suspending it
upon the _consent_ of the people. Such a doctrine from _declaimers_ like
Messrs. Alford, of Georgia, and Walker, of Mississippi, would excite no
surprise; but that it should be honored with the endorsement of such men
as Mr. Rives and Mr. Calhoun, is quite unaccountable. Are attributes of
sovereignty mere creatures of contingency? Is delegated authority mere
conditional permission? Is a constitutional power to be exercised by
those who hold it, only by popular sufferance? Must it lie helpless at
the pool of public sentiment, waiting the gracious troubling of its
waters? Is it a lifeless corpse, save only when popular "consent" deigns
to puff breath into its nostrils? Besides, if the consent of the people
of the District be necessary, the consent of the _whole_ people must be
had - not that of a majority, however large. Majorities, to be
authoritative, must be _legal_ - and a legal majority without legislative
power, or right of representation, or even the electoral franchise,
would be truly an anomaly! In the District of Columbia, such a thing as
a majority in a legal sense is unknown to law. To talk of the power of a
majority, or the will of a majority there, is mere mouthing. A majority?
Then it has an authoritative will, and an organ to make it known, and an
executive to carry it into effect - Where are they? We repeat it - if the
consent of the people of the District be necessary, the consent of
_every one_ is necessary - and _universal_ consent will come only with
the Greek Kalends and a "perpetual motion." A single individual might
thus perpetuate slavery in defiance of the expressed will of a whole
people. The most common form of this fallacy is given by Mr. Wise, of
Virginia, in his speech, February 16, 1835, in which he denied the power
of Congress to abolish slavery in the District, unless the inhabitants
owning slaves petitioned for it!! Southern members of Congress at the
present session (1837-8) ring changes almost daily upon the same
fallacy. What! pray Congress _to use_ a power which it _has not_? "It is
required of a man according to what he _hath_," saith the Scripture. I
commend Mr. Wise to Paul for his ethics. Would that he had got his
_logic_ of him! If Congress does not possess the power, why taunt it
with its weakness, by asking its exercise? Petitioning, according to Mr.
Wise, is, in matters of legislation, omnipotence itself; the very
_source_ of all constitutional power; for, _asking_ Congress to do what
it _cannot_ do, gives it the power! - to pray the exercise of a power
that is _not, creates_ it! A beautiful theory! Let us work it both ways.
If to petition for the exercise of a power that is _not_, creates it - to
petition against the exercise of a power that _is_, annihilates it. As
southern gentlemen are partial to summary processes, pray, sirs, try the
virtue of your own recipe on "exclusive legislation in all cases
whatsoever;" a better subject for experiment and test of the
prescription could not be had. But if the petitions of the citizens of
the District give Congress the _right_ to abolish slavery, they impose
the _duty_; if they confer constitutional _authority_, they create
constitutional _obligation_. If Congress _may_ abolish because of an
expression of their will, it _must_ abolish at the bidding of that will.
If the people of the District are a _source of power_ to Congress, their
_expressed will_ has the force of a constitutional provision, and has
the same binding power upon the National Legislature. To make Congress
dependent on the District for authority, is to make it a _subject_ of
its authority, restraining the exercise of its own discretion, and
sinking it into a mere organ of the District's will. We proceed to
another objection.

"_The southern states would not have ratified the constitution, if they
had supposed that it gave this power_." It is a sufficient answer to
this objection, that the northern states would not have ratified it, if
they had supposed that it _withheld_ the power. If "suppositions" are to
take the place of the constitution - coming from both sides, they
neutralize each other. To argue a constitutional question by _guessing_
at the "suppositions" that might have been made by the parties to it
would find small favor in a court of law. But even a desperate shift is
some easement when sorely pushed. If this question is to be settled by
"suppositions," suppositions shall be forthcoming, and that
without stint.

First, then, I affirm that the North ratified the constitution,
"supposing" that slavery had begun to wax old, and would speedily vanish
away, and especially that the abolition of the slave trade, which by the
constitution was to be surrendered to Congress after twenty years, would
plunge it headlong.

Would the North have adopted the constitution, giving three-fifths of
the "slave property" a representation, if it had "supposed" that the
slaves would have increased from half a million to two millions and a
half by 1838 - and that the census of 1840 would give to the slave states
thirty representatives of "slave property?"

If they had "supposed" that this representation would have controlled
the legislation of the government, and carried against the North every
question vital to its interests, would Hamilton, Franklin, Sherman,
Gerry, Livingston, Langdon, and Rufus King have been such madmen, as to
sign the constitution, and the Northern States such suicides as to
ratify it? Every self-preserving instinct would have shrieked at such an
infatuate immolation. At the adoption of the United States constitution,
slavery was regarded as a fast waning system. This conviction was
universal. Washington, Jefferson, Henry, Grayson, Tucker, Madison,
Wythe, Pendleton, Lee, Blair, Mason, Page, Parker, Randolph, Iredell,
Spaight, Ramsey, Pinkney, Martin, McHenry, Chase, and nearly all the
illustrious names south of the Potomac, proclaimed it before the sun. A
reason urged in the convention that formed the United States'
constitution, why the word slave should not be used in it, was, _that
when slavery should cease_ there might remain upon the National Charter
no record that it had ever been. (See speech of Mr. Burrill, of R.I., on
the Missouri question.)

I now proceed to show by testimony, that at the date of the United
States' constitution, and for several years before and after that
period, slavery was rapidly on the wane; that the American Revolution
with the great events preceding, accompanying, and following it, had
wrought an immense and almost universal change in the public sentiment
of the nation on the subject, powerfully impelling it toward the entire
abolition of the system - and that it was the _general belief_ that
measures for its abolition throughout the Union, would be commenced by
the States generally before the lapse of many years. A great mass of
testimony establishing this position might be presented, but narrow
space, and the importance of speedy publication, counsel brevity. Let
the following proofs suffice. First, a few dates as points of
observation.

In 1757, Commissioners from seven colonies met at Albany, resolved upon
a Union and proposed a plan of general government. In 1765, delegates
from nine colonies met at New York and sent forth a bill of rights. The
first _general_ Congress met in 1774. The first Congress of the
_thirteen_ colonies met in 1775. The revolutionary war commenced in '75.



Online LibraryAmerican Anti-Slavery SocietyThe Anti-Slavery Examiner, Part 2 of 4 → online text (page 3 of 75)