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The Anti-Slavery Examiner, Part 4 of 4 online

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condition precedent to any hope of success in the struggle for the
executive chair; a seat that, for more than three-fourths of the
existence of our constitutional government, has been occupied by a

The same stern despotism overshadows even the sanctuaries of
_justice_. Of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court of the United
States, five are slaveholders, and of course, must be faithless to
their own interest, as well as recreant to the power that gives them
place, or must, so far as _they_ are concerned, give both to law and
constitution such a construction as shall justify the language of
John Quincy Adams, when he says - "The legislative, executive, and
judicial authorities, are all in their hands - for the preservation,
propagation, and perpetuation of the black code of slavery. Every
law of the legislature becomes a link in the chain of the slave;
every executive act a rivet to his hapless fate; every judicial
decision a perversion of the human intellect to the justification of

Thus by merely adverting but briefly to the theory and the practical
effect of this clause of the Constitution, that I have sworn to
support, it is seen that it throws the political power of the nation
into the hands of the slaveholders; a body of men, which, however it
may be regarded by the Constitution as "persons," is in fact and
practical effect, a vast moneyed corporation, bound together by an
indissoluble unity of interest, by a common sense of a common danger;
counselling at all times for its common protection; wielding the
whole power, and controlling the destiny of the nation.

If we look into the legislative halls, slavery is seen in the chair
of the presiding officer of each, and controlling the action of both.
Slavery occupies, by prescriptive right, the Presidential chair. The
paramount voice that comes from the temple of national justice,
issues from the lips of slavery. The army is in the hands of slavery,
and at her bidding, must encamp in the everglades of Florida, or
march from the Missouri to the borders of Mexico, to look after her
interests in Texas.

The navy, even that part that is cruising off the coast of Africa, to
suppress the foreign slave trade, is in the hands of slavery.

Freemen of the North, who have even dared to lift up their voice
against slavery, cannot travel through the slave States, but at the
peril of their lives.

The representatives of freemen are forbidden, on the floor of
Congress, to remonstrate against the encroachments of slavery, or to
pray that she would let her poor victims go.

I renounce my allegiance to a Constitution that enthrones such a
power, wielded for the purpose of depriving me of my rights, of
robbing my countrymen of their liberties, and of securing its own
protection, support and perpetuation.

Passing by that clause of the Constitution, which restricted Congress
for twenty years, from passing any law against the African slave
trade, and which gave authority to raise a revenue on the stolen
sons of Africa, I come to that part of the fourth article, which
guarantees protection against "_domestic violence_," and which
pledges to the South the military force of the country, to protect
the masters against their insurgent slaves: binds us, and our
children, to shoot down our fellow-countrymen, who may rise, in
emulation of our revolutionary fathers, to vindicate their inalienable
"right to life, _liberty_ and the pursuit of happiness," - this
clause of the Constitution, I say distinctly, I never will

That part of the Constitution which provides for the surrender of
fugitive slaves, I never have supported and never will. I will join
in no slave-hunt. My door shall stand open, as it has long stood, for
the panting and trembling victim of the slave-hunter. When I shut it
against him, may God shut the door of his mercy against me! Under
this clause of the Constitution, and designed to carry it into effect,
slavery has demanded that laws should be passed, and of such a
character, as have left the free citizen of the North without
protection for his own liberty. The question, whether a man seized
in a free State as a slave, _is_ a slave or not, the law of Congress
does not allow a jury to determine: but refers it to the decision of
a Judge of a United States' Court, or even of the humblest State
magistrate, it may be, upon the testimony or affidavit of the party
most deeply interested to support the claim. By virtue of this law,
freemen have been seized and dragged into perpetual slavery - and
should I be seized by a slave-hunter in any part of the country
where I am not personally known, neither the Constitution nor laws
of the United States would shield me from the same destiny.

These, sir, are the specific parts of the Constitution of the United
States, which in my opinion are essentially vicious, hostile at once
to the liberty and to the morals of the nation. And these are the
principal reasons of my refusal any longer to acknowledge my
allegiance to it, and of my determination to revoke my oath to
support it. I cannot, in order to keep the law of man, break the law
of God, or solemnly call him to witness my promise that I will break

It is true that the Constitution provides for its own amendment, and
that by this process, all the guarantees of Slavery may be expunged.
But it will be time enough to swear to support it when this is done.
It cannot be right to do so, until these amendments are made.

It is also true that the framers of the Constitution did studiously
keep the words "Slave" and "Slavery" from its face. But to do our
constitutional fathers justice, while they forebore - from very
shame - to give the word "Slavery" a place in the Constitution, they
did not forbear - again to do them justice - to give place in it to
the _thing_. They were careful to wrap up the idea, and the substance
of Slavery, in the clause for the surrender of the fugitive, though
they sacrificed justice in doing so.

There is abundant evidence that this clause touching "persons held
to service or labor," not only operates practically, under the
judicial construction, for the protection of the slave interest; but
that it was intended so to operate by the framers of the
Constitution. The highest judicial authorities - Chief Justice Shaw,
of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, in the Latimer case, and
Mr. Justice Story, in the Supreme Court of the United States, in the
case of _Prigg_ vs. _The State of Pennsylvania_, - tell us, I know
not on what evidence, that without this "compromise," this security
for Southern slaveholders, "the Union could not have been formed."
And there is still higher evidence, not only that the framers of the
Constitution meant by this clause to protect slavery, but that they
did this, knowing that slavery was wrong. Mr. Madison[95] informs us
that the clause in question, as it came out of the hands of Dr.
Johnson, the chairman of the "committee on style," read thus: "No
person legally held to service, or labor, in one State, escaping into
another, shall," &c., and that the word "legally" was struck out, and
the words "under the laws thereof" inserted after the word "State," in
compliance with the wish of some, who thought the term _legal_
equivocal, and favoring the idea that slavery was legal "_in a moral
view_." A conclusive proof that, although future generations might
apply that clause to other kinds of "service or labor," when slavery
should have died out, or been killed off by the young spirit of
liberty, which was _then_ awake and at work in the land; still,
slavery was what they were wrapping up in "equivocal" words; and
wrapping it up for its protection and safe keeping: a conclusive proof
that the framers of the Constitution were more careful to protect
themselves in the judgment of coming generations, from the charge
of ignorance, than of sin; a conclusive proof that they knew that
slavery was _not_ "legal in a moral view," that it was a violation
of the moral law of God; and yet knowing and confessing its
immorality, they dared to make this stipulation for its support and

[Footnote 95: Madison Papers, p. 1589]

This language may sound harsh to the ears of those who think it a
part of their duty, as citizens, to maintain that whatever the
patriots of the Revolution did, was right; and who hold that we are
bound to _do_ all the iniquity that they covenanted for us that we
_should_ do. But the claims of truth and right are paramount to
all other claims.

With all our veneration for our constitutional fathers, we must
admit, - for they have left on record their own confession of it, - that
in this part of their work they intended to hold the shield of
their protection over a wrong, knowing that it was a wrong. They
made a "compromise" which they had no right to make - a compromise of
moral principle for the sake of what they probably regarded as
"political expediency." I am sure they did not know - no man could
know, or can now measure, the extent, or the consequences of the
wrong, that they were doing. In the strong language of John Quincy
Adams,[96] in relation to the article fixing the basis of
representation, "Little did the members of the Convention, from the
free States, imagine or foresee what a sacrifice to Moloch was hidden
under the mask of this concession."

[Footnote 96: See his Report on the Massachusetts Resolutions.]

I verily believe that, giving all due consideration to the benefits
conferred upon this nation by the Constitution, its national unity,
its swelling masses of wealth, its power, and the external
prosperity of its multiplying millions; yet the _moral_ injury that
has been done, by the countenance shown to slavery by holding over
that tremendous sin the shield of the Constitution, and thus
breaking down in the eyes of the nation the barrier between right
and wrong; by so tenderly cherishing slavery as, in less than the
life of man, to multiply her children from half a million to nearly
three millions; by exacting oaths from those who occupy prominent
stations in society, that they will violate at once the rights of
man and the law of God; by substituting itself as a rule of right,
in place of the moral laws of the universe; - thus in effect,
dethroning the Almighty in the hearts of this people and setting up
another sovereign in his stead - more than outweighs it all. A
melancholy and monitory lesson this, to all timeserving and
temporising statesmen! A striking illustration of the _impolicy_ of
sacrificing _right_ to any considerations of expediency! Yet, what
better than the evil effects that we have seen, could the authors of
the Constitution have reasonably expected, from the sacrifice of
right, in the concessions they made to slavery? Was it reasonable in
them to expect that after they had introduced a vicious element into
the very Constitution of the body politic which they were calling
into life, it would not exert its vicious energies? Was it reasonable
in them to expect that, after slavery had been corrupting the public
morals for a whole generation, their children would have too much
virtue to _use_ for the defence of slavery, a power which they
themselves had not too much virtue to _give_? It is dangerous for
the sovereign power of a State to license immorality; to hold the
shield of its protection over any thing that is not "legal in a moral
view." Bring into your house a benumbed viper, and lay it down upon
your warm hearth, and soon it will not ask you into which room it
may crawl. Let Slavery once lean upon the supporting arm, and bask
in the fostering smile of the State, and you will soon see, as we
now see, both her minions and her victims multiply apace till the
politics, the morals, the liberties, even the religion of the nation,
are brought completely under her control.

To me, it appears that the virus of slavery, introduced into the
Constitution of our body politic, by a few slight punctures, has now
so pervaded and poisoned the whole system of our National Government,
that literally there is no health in it. The only remedy that I can
see for the disease, is to be found in the _dissolution of the

The Constitution of the United States, both in theory and practice,
is so utterly broken down by the influence and effects of slavery,
so imbecile for the highest good of the nation, and so powerful for
evil, that I can give no voluntary assistance in holding it up any

Henceforth it is dead to me, and I to it. I withdraw all profession
of allegiance to it, and all my voluntary efforts to sustain it. The
burdens that it lays upon me, while it is held up by others, I shall
endeavor to bear patiently, yet acting with reference to a higher law,
and distinctly declaring, that while I retain my own liberty, I will
be a party to no compact, which helps to rob any other man of his.

Very respectfully, your friend,


* * * * *


"We have slavery, already, amongst us. The Constitution found it
among us; it recognized it and gave it SOLEMN GUARANTIES. To the
full extent of these guaranties we are all bound, in honor, in
justice, and by the Constitution. All the stipulations, contained in
the Constitution, _in favor of the slaveholding States_ which are
already in the Union, ought to be fulfilled, and so far as depends
on me, shall be fulfilled, in the fullness of their spirit, and to
the exactness of their letter."!!!

* * * * *



The benefits of the Constitution of the United States, were the
restoration of credit and reputation, to the country - the revival of
commerce, navigation, and ship-building - the acquisition of the
means of discharging the debts of the Revolution, and the protection
and encouragement of the infant and drooping manufactures of the
country. All this, however, as is now well ascertained, was
insufficient to propitiate the rulers of the Southern States to
the adoption of the Constitution. What they specially wanted was
_protection_. - Protection from the powerful and savage tribes of
Indians within their borders, and who were harassing them with the most
terrible of wars - and protection from their own negroes - protection
from their insurrections - protection from their escape - protection
even to the trade by which they were brought into the
country - protection, shall I not blush to say, protection to the very
bondage by which they were held. Yes! it cannot be denied - the
slaveholding lords of the South prescribed, as a condition of their
assent to the Constitution, three special provisions to secure the
perpetuity of their dominion over their slaves. The first was the
immunity for twenty years of preserving the African slave-trade; the
second was the stipulation to surrender fugitive slaves - an
engagement positively prohibited by the laws of God, delivered from
Sinai; and thirdly, the exaction fatal to the principles of popular
representation, of a representation for slaves - for articles of
merchandise, under the name of persons.

The reluctance with which the freemen of the North submitted to the
dictation of these conditions, is attested by the awkward and
ambiguous language in which they are expressed. The word slave is
most cautiously and fastidiously excluded from the whole instrument.
A stranger, who should come from a foreign land, and read the
Constitution of the United States, would not believe that slavery or
a slave existed within the borders of our country. There is not a
word in the Constitution _apparently_ bearing upon the condition of
slavery, nor is there a provision but would be susceptible of
practical execution, if there were not a slave in the land.

The delegates from South Carolina and Georgia distinctly avowed that,
without this guarantee of protection to their property in slaves,
they would not yield their assent to the Constitution; and the
freemen of the North, reduced to the alternative of departing from
the vital principle of their liberty, or of forfeiting the Union
itself, averted their faces, and with trembling hand subscribed the

Twenty years passed away - the slave markets of the South were
saturated with the blood of African bondage, and from midnight of the
31st of December, 1807, not a slave from Africa was suffered ever
more to be introduced upon our soil. But the internal traffic was
still lawful, and the _breeding_ States soon reconciled themselves to
a prohibition which gave them the monopoly of the interdicted trade,
and they joined the full chorus of reprobation, to punish with death
the slave-trader from Africa, while they cherished and shielded and
enjoyed the precious profits of the American slave-trade exclusively
to themselves.

Perhaps this unhappy result of their concession had not altogether
escaped the foresight of the freemen of the North; but their intense
anxiety for the preservation of the whole Union, and the habit
already formed of yielding to the somewhat peremptory and overbearing
tone which the relation of master and slave welds into the nature of
the lord, prevailed with them to overlook this consideration, the
internal slave-trade having scarcely existed while that with Africa
had been allowed. But of one consequence which has followed from the
slave representation, pervading the whole organic structure of the
Constitution, they certainly were not prescient; for if they had been,
never - no, never would they have consented to it.

The representation, ostensibly of slaves, under the name of persons,
was in its operation an exclusive grant of power to one class of
proprietors, owners of one species of property, to the detriment of
all the rest of the community. This species of property was odious
in its nature, held in direct violation of the natural and
inalienable rights of man, and of the vital principles of
Christianity; it was all accumulated in one geographical section of
the country, and was all held by wealthy men, comparatively small in
numbers, not amounting to a tenth part of the free white population
of the States in which it was concentrated.

In some of the ancient, and in some modern republics, extraordinary
political power and privileges have been invested in the owners of
horses; but then these privileges and these powers have been granted
for the equivalent of extraordinary duties and services to the
community, required of the favoured class. The Roman knights
constituted the cavalry of their armies, and the bushels of rings
gathered by Hannibal from their dead bodies, after the battle of
Cannae, amply prove that the special powers conferred upon them were
no gratuitous grants. But in the Constitution of the United States,
the political power invested in the owners of slaves is entirely
gratuitous. No extraordinary service is required of them; they are,
on the contrary, themselves grievous burdens upon the community,
always threatened with the danger of insurrections, to be smothered
in the blood of both parties, master and slave, and always
depressing the condition of the poor free laborer, by competition
with the labor of the slave. The property in horses was the gift of
God to man, at the creation of the world; the property in slaves is
property acquired and held by crimes, differing in no moral aspect
from the pillage of a freebooter, and to which no lapse of time can
give a prescriptive right. You are told that this is no concern of
yours, and that the question of freedom and slavery is exclusively
reserved to the consideration of the separate States. But if it be so,
as to the mere question of right between master and slave, it is of
tremendous concern to you that this little cluster of slave-owners
should possess, besides their own share in the representative hall
of the nation, the exclusive privilege of appointing two-fifths of
the whole number of the representatives of the people. This is now
your condition, under that delusive ambiguity of language and of
principle, which begins by declaring the representation in the
popular branch of the legislature a representation of persons, and
then provides that one class of persons shall have neither part not
lot in the choice of their representatives; but their elective
franchise shall be transferred to their masters, and the oppressors
shall represent the oppressed. The same perversion of the
representative principle pollutes the composition of the colleges of
electors of President and Vice President of the United States, and
every department of the government of the Union is thus tainted at
its source by the gangrene of slavery.

Fellow-citizens, - with a body of men thus composed, for legislators
and executors of the laws, what will, what must be, what has been
your legislation? The numbers of freemen constituting your nation
are much greater than those of the slaveholding States, bond and free.
You have at least three-fifths of the whole population of the Union.
Your influence on the legislation and the administration of the
government ought to be in the proportion of three to two. - But how
stands the fact? Besides the legitimate portion of influence
exercised by the slaveholding States by the measure of their numbers,
here is an intrusive influence in every department, by a
representation nominally of persons, but really of property,
ostensibly of slaves, but effectively of their masters,
overbalancing your superiority of numbers, adding two-fifths of
supplementary power to the two-fifths fairly secured to them by the
GOVERNMENT AT HOME AND ABROAD, and warping it to the sordid private
interest and oppressive policy of 300,000 owners of slaves.

From the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the United
States, the institution of domestic slavery has been becoming more
and more the abhorrence of the civilized world. But in proportion as
it has been growing odious to all the rest of mankind, it has been
sinking deeper and deeper into the affections of the holders of
slaves themselves. The cultivation of cotton and of sugar, unknown
in the Union at the establishment of the Constitution, has added
largely to the pecuniary value of the slave. And the suppression of
the African slave-trade as piracy upon pain of death, by securing
the benefit of a monopoly to the virtuous slaveholders of the
ancient dominion, has turned her heroic tyrannicides into a
community of slave-breeders for sale, and converted the land of
George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas
Jefferson, into a great barracoon - a cattle-show of human beings, an
emporium, of which the staple articles of merchandise are the flesh
and blood, the bones and sinews of immortal man.

Of the increasing abomination of slavery in the unbought hearts of
men at the time when the Constitution of the United States was formed,
what clearer proof could be desired, than that the very same year in
which that charter of the land was issued, the Congress of the
Confederation, with not a tithe of the powers given by the people to
the Congress of the new compact, actually abolished slavery for ever
throughout the whole Northwestern territory, without a remonstrance
or a murmur. But in the articles of confederation, there was no
guaranty for the property of the slaveholder - no double representation
of him in the Federal councils - no power of taxation - no stipulation
for the recovery of fugitive slaves. But when the powers of
_government_ came to be delegated to the Union, the South - that
is, South Carolina and Georgia - refused their subscription to
the parchment, till it should be saturated with the infection
of slavery, which no fumigation could purify, no quarantine could
extinguish. The freemen of the North gave way, and the deadly
venom of slavery was infused into the Constitution of freedom. Its
first consequence has been to invert the first principle of Democracy,
that the will of the majority of numbers shall rule the land. By
means of the double representation, the minority command the whole,
THE COUNTRY. To acquire this superiority of a large majority of
freemen, a persevering system of engrossing nearly all the seats
of power and place, is constantly for a long series of years
pursued, and you have seen, in a period of fifty-six years, the
Chief-magistracy of the Union held, during forty-four of them, by
the owners of slaves. The Executive departments, the Army and Navy,

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Online LibraryAmerican Anti-Slavery SocietyThe Anti-Slavery Examiner, Part 4 of 4 → online text (page 11 of 18)