Calvin Colton.

Abolition a sedition. By a northern man online

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is no demand, there can be no lawful occasion, for
them in such a government as ours, where the
people can always move, without let or hinderance,
direcdy, towards the objects they desire, or which
the majority desire, under the prescribed forms of
the Constitution and laws. If it were allowable
for the people to depart from these forms in one
instance, they might do it in another; if in one


degree, they might extend it at their own option ;
and there would be no end to it. Sedition and
treason, in that case, would be authorised by law.
But, most happily, the Constitutional law of this
land has been minutely scrupulous in prohibiting
all permanent political organizations, which are
not created by itself, as parts of one great poli.tieal
fabric, asserting sole empire over iis own jurisdic-
tion. We say, m prohihiting them, as we have be-
fore shown, that the license given is equally a law
of prohibition for all that is not licensed.

This wisdom is moreover apparent from the con-
sideration, that by adhering to these forms, there is
always a balance of influence against any attempts
to injure, or impair, or overthrow the Government,
Constitution, and laws of the land, or to surprise
the public by the advantages acquired by political
combinations ofa permanent and organized character.
The freedom of speech guaranteed to one citizen,
is guaranteed to all. Hence, the private influence
of one man on one side, is balanced by that of an-
other on the other side, of the same question ; and
between the two, the chances are in favour of the
right. The same remark applies to the influence
of the press : there is always a balance of power,
operating on the public, so long as the forms of the
Constiiution are observed. In the same manner,
popular assemblies of one party and the other, so
long as they keep within the Constitutional license,
neutralize each other, in all their inordinate ex-
cesses, and afford a chance for the right to prevail.
Whenever a petition, or address, or remonstrance
is preferred to Government, in regard to which there
is a difference of opinion, its undue influence will


be counteracted by another. And so a salutary
balance of power is maintained in all the Constitu-
tional modes of political action.

But the moment the Constitutional license is
transcended, as in the case of the American Anti-
Slavery Society, this healthful balance of power is
lost. Such an unconstitutional oro;anization steals
a march upon the public, and by the amazing power
of its vast political machinery, assails the Constitu-
tion and laws of the country, with no rival influ-
ence to counteract it. While the rest of the people
keep icithin the laws, this combination has trans-
cended them, and occupies the field of its usurpa-
tion alone. There is no balance of influence any
where, that can lawfully be employed, except in
the strong arm of authority. The public, the Go-
vernment, the world, have been taken by surprise.
Here is an immense and powerful combination, that
has suddenly leaped from the sphere of the reli-
gious world, brought with it a machinery which
was manufactured in that sphere, seized upon af-
fairs of State, usurped the business of State, and
neither the public, nor the Government, seem yet
to know which end, or how, head or tail, to take
hold of the monster. It comes in shapes unknown,
unrecognized before, and has pounced upon the
political fabric of the nation, with an apparent de-
termination to rend it asunder, and tear it down
before the eyes of the world. Like as Satan, when
he came with errand fatal to our race, from out
Hell's regions, and approached the gates that open-
ed from that dark abyss, encountered and addressed
his monster child, so the Government, not less



amazed, seems also to say to this unexpected Ap-
parition :

*' Whence, and what art thou, execrable shape,
That durst, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated front athwart my way ?"

But, we fear, that a like truce will not be made
iDCtween these parties. Like as " Sin" gave her
own history to her Father, so the world may yet
be favoured with a philosophical account of this other
monster, a part of which, peradventure, shall be
found in these pages.

It is the perfectly anomalous character and posi-
tion of the American Anti-Slavery Society, that has
so embarrassed and overwhelmed the public mind,
roduced such a vast excitement, and frightened
alf the nation; Armed with a machinery hitherto
unknown in the political world, it has broken
through the bounds of law and the restraints of the
Constitution, opened its artillery on both these de-
partments of our political fabric, and so astounded
the public, that few have yet learned how this auda-
cious assault has been planned and executed, or
what is the character of the enemy to be encoun-
tered. It is because, in this political crusade, the
actors have thoroughly transcended the prescribed
limits of Constitutional action, 2.nd entered a field
untrodden before, in an unknown shape, that the
public know not where to find them, or how to
meet and take hold of them. The battle, hitherto,
has been all their own ; and it cannot be denied,
that they have done execution, and stand responsi-
ble for infinite mischief. Neither is it any less

A SEniTIOX. 31

certain, in our opinion, that, with all the advantage
and power of their organization, if it should be re-
cognized as lawful, and permitted by the public
authorities of our country to go on, without check
or control, they will revolutionize the Government,
and divide the Union. All beyond this is uncer-
tain, and fearfully so.

Suppose the Abolitionists had kept within the
bounds of law, and contented themselves with that
freedom of speech and of ihe press, with such pub-
lic discussions, and with such petitions, addresses,
and remonstrar.ces to Government, as the Consti-
tution authorises ; suppose they had been as mild
and Christian-like in their action on this subject, as
the Quakers ; theit influence would then have dis-
tilled like the dew, falien like the rain, and cheered
the heart like the sun. In such a case, the subject
could still have been discussed with reason and
temperance, throughout the wide community, not
-excening even the South ; tlie South would not
have been alarmed; the free colored population
would not have been, as now, filled with all bitter-
ness and malice ; the amelioration of the condition
of slaves would have continued and increased, as
before, instead of that augmented rigour of discipline
and surveillance to which the South has been com-
pelled by these violent measures ; the country would
have remained in peace, and the whole subject
would still have been open to free and candid
discussion every where, and with every body.
Whereas, the erection of this unconstitutional ma-
chinery, and the spirit with which it has been
swayed, has put the whole Republic out of temper,
and out of joint ; has made pro-slavery men of one


party, and fanatics of another ; has unfitted the
colored population, free and bond, for the culture
of benevolence ; has rivetted the chains of slavery
with tenfold power, blighted the prospects, and
thrown forward the period, of ultimate emancipa-
tion, for a time which baffles prophecy, unless,
peradventure — which God forbid — this movement
shall prevail to break down the Government, and
let loose the spirit of fiends to desolate the land.
The strife henceforth will be, not that of benevo-
lence for the good of the slave — for the Abolitionists
themselves are his most dangerous foes — but it will
be between this organized sedition and the Govern-
ment of the country — between the Constitution and
a grand political faction. And. all this as the con-
sequence of departing from the wholesome regula-
tions of law, of setting up a romantic sympathy as
a substitute for true benevolence, and fanaticism for

In view of the argument of this chapter, we trust
we shall stand justified with all reasonable minds,
for the heading we have placed over it, and for the
title of the book. It has been from a conscientious
conviction of the seditious character of the Ameri-
can Anti-slavery Society, that we have sat down to
this task. The public generally have felt, that this
association was warring against the supreme law of
the land ; but nobody has taken pains to set forth
the argument by which it is proved. Every body
has seen, that the tranquillity of the country has
been disturbed, and a dissolution of the Union
threatened, by the action of this Society ; but the
more common impression has been, that it is rather
the result of rashness and imprudence, than the ef-


feet of an uiilawriil political combination. The po-
pular disgust and indignation, witli wliich some of
the more outrageous proceedings of Abolitionists
have been received, have arisen from a vague and
uPideiined notion, that they were wrong — and wrong
in relation to the Constitution and laws of the land ;
but, we think, that the true position, and proper
political character of this Society, as being seditious,
has not generally been perceived. If, indeed, we
are right in the views here presented, we hope they
may be the means of enlightening the public. Abo-
litionists themselves, especially the most active and
determined, we have little hope of benefitting ; else,
■we might have studied more to humour their preju-
dices, and gain them over to reason. We have ra-
ther been convinced, that the greatness and danger
of the error demand a somewhat decided and vigor-
ous treatment. We have observed v/ith pain, that
the people of the South are getting more and more
into the feeling and conviction, tliat a dissolution of
the Union will be necessary for their own protec-
tion. In so far, therefore, as the people of the
North would deprecate such a result, it is most de-
sirable, that they should thoroughly understand the
position and character of the Abolition organization,
in order that they may be prepared to appreciate
and treat it according to its merits. If, indeed, it is
a sedition, and can be clearly proved to be such, to
the satisfaction of the public, can it be supposed,
that it would continue to have the same moral pow-
er, even with its own advocates ? Will not many of
them shrink from the thought of being traitors to
their country ; and more especially when they shall
iiave occasion to see, as by this time they ought to


see, that, in such a course, they are rivetting, in-
stead of breaking, the chains of slavery, unless they
succeed in plunging the nation into a civil war,
which ought to be still more revolting to their feel-
ings ? How much more should such a conviction
arm that portion of the Northern public, who have
never fallen into this delusion, with zeal and deter-
mination to vindicate the honor of their country,
and maintain its laws, not, indeed, by a persecution
of those who have been led astray, but by show-
ing, in all suitable ways, their unyielding attach-
ment to the Constitution and Government, in its
unavoidable struggle against such an unlawful com-
bination, and by convincing the people of the South,
that there is a sympathy in the North, that will not
abandon them in the trying and perilous condition,
into which they have been thrown by this seditious
movement ?

And would we advise an authoritative suppres-
sion of this sedition ? We say not, that we would.
Ours is a Government of forbearance, because it is
the Government of the people. As we have reason
to suppose, that the pubhc generally have not even
yet discovered the true position of the Anti-slavery
Society, in relation to the Constitution, much less
can we presume to say, that the members of that
Society, as a body, have ever imagined, that they
were involved in the responsibility of seditious ac-
tion against the Government of their country. We
charitably believe, that for the most part, their be-
nevolent sympathies have been worked upon by
the exaggerated statements and high colored pic-
tures of more artful, of ambitious, and less innocent
men ; and that, when left to choose between sedi-


tion and the Union, they will unhesitatingly prefer
the latter, even though the former, if it had been a
lawful enterprise, might still seem to them a wor-
thy and desirable object. But, if the extremity must
unavoidably come, to dissolve the Union and the
Government, or encounter this movement by the
strons" arm of authority, with our present views of
its seditious character, we cannot entertain a doubt,
on which side it would be our duty to engage.
Nevertheless, our confidence in the good sense of
the people, leads us to hope for better things.


The seditious character of the annual re-
OF 1838.

If the showing already made, in regard to the se-
ditious organization of the American Anti-slavery
Society, be a fair one, its action as such becomes a
conspiracy in the Republic, so far as it militates
against its political fabric. It is no more than fair to
notice, that in the first article of the Constitution of
this Society, it is assumed, that " slavery is con-
trary to the principles of our republican form of go-
vernment." This is a very material point, vital,
fundamental, so far as it relates to the question now
in hand. The truth of this assumption would jus-
tify the catcsCi in which this Society are engaged.

5*6 ABOLl'nO.N'

SO long as il slioiild besu stained in a Conslitaliona:
way ; though it cannot justify an independent po-
litical organization in the Republic for such an ob-
ject. We have already pointed out, as we trust
dearly, tlie only Constitutioiiai modes of political
action for reform, or any other purposes, under the
Government; and shown that this Society is un-
constitutional. The truth of this assumption, there-
fore, would not justify its mode of action, and it
would still be open to the charge of sedition. But,
let us see, wl.ether this assumption be true.

" Slavery is contrary to the principles of our re-
publican form of government." If they mean to say,
it is contrary to tlie principles of the free States, as
recognised and established for tlieir own separate
jurisdictions, it is true. But it was quite unneces-
sary to say it, as all the world knew it before. If
they mean to say it is contrary to the principles of
a republican form of government in the abstract, as
a theory, it may be true, or it may be false, and de-
pends entirely upon the character of the theory that
is setup. This is a question, which cannot easily
be settled, because it is a matter of opinion, not of
fact. The people of the South v.-ould be on one
side, and those of the North on the other; and we
ourself, be it known, should be on the side of the
North. If the question be as to the ccmtnon opi-
nion, prevalent among mankind, of the principles
of a republican form of government, this Society is'
doubtless right on that ground. But we apprehend,
indeed we know, and every body knows, that it is
not a question of opinion, but of fact, that is invol-
ved in this assumption. Did the Society mean to
say, that " slavery is contrary to the principles" of


Ihe Slave-holding States ? Manifestly not. What,
then, did they mean 1 Contrary to the principles of
the Government of the United States, undoubtedly.
*' Slavery is contrary to the principles of our Re-
pubhcan form of Government." We say, then, that
as 3i fact^ this is false ^ and we need travel no further
to prove it, than from the Preamble of the Constitu-
tion of this Society, in which this assertion is made,
to the second Article, where we find this clause :
*' While it (the Society) admits, that each State, in
which slavery exists, has the exclusive right, by
the Constitution of the United States, to legislate
in regard to its Abolition in said State," &:c. As
this is a candid recognition of that part, and of those
^'principles of our Republican form of Govern-
ment," which we shall have occasion in another
place to introduce in form, it is superfluous to quote
the passages here, inasmuch as this Society, by its
own confession, has done the work for us, and
against itself. It is a simple question of /«c^; and
that fact recognized, in express terms, by the Soci-
ety, in the second article of its own Constitution,
the assumption of the Preamble, in regard to this
point, is proved to be false. Slavery, therefore, is
not contrary to the principles of our Republican
form of Government ; and the Constitution of the
United States, (Art. II. Sec. 2d. Clause 3d.) which
we shall hereafter consider, recognises the validity
of property in the Slave, and engages to defend it
throughout the Union ; and it is well known, that,
by the force of this law, runaway Slaves are habitu-
ally recovered. It will be understood, that we are
not discussHig the propriety of this law, but the
fact. It is a " principle of our Republican form



of Government ;" and as would seem, a potent an^
paramount one.

All the other principles of the American Anti-
Slavery Society will avail nothing, politically con-
sidered^ so long as they are false in this. They
have hazarded their whole cause, in an open and
seditious conflict with the Government of the Uni-
ted States, on a false assumption as to fact!

We shall now proceed to a consideration of the
seditious character of the Annual Report of this
Society, of 1838. This Society must now he
viewed, as we have proved it to be, in the light of
a grand and independent political organization, set
up in the Republic, and at war with it — as an un-
constitutional and self-erected corporation. Any
political action it may assume, therefore, whether
for or against the Republic, is unconstitutional^
The Government wants not its help — certainly it
has never asked for it — much less can it tolerate a
conspiracy. What may be lawful for a private ci-
tizen to do, is unlawful for this Society as a politi-
cal organization of its specific character. What
may be lawful for popular assemblies, or associa-
tions, acting in the modes prescribed by the Con-
stitution, for political ends, of whatever nature, is
unlawful for this Society, because it is a body un-
known to the Constitution and laws of the land..
It is a State within the State, that has asked no
leave to be, that is prohibited by law, acting under
a State machinery, disturbing the peace of the
State, and threatening its overthrow.

The Annual Report of this Society of 1838, is
a document of a remarkable character, when view-
ed in this light. It is almost exclusively political.


It seems true enough, as its own language declares,
that " abolitionism must have much to do with
politics." It discusses all the affairs of the nation,
and oi the States, in relation to this great and por-
tentous subject, as must be confessed with no in-
-^onsiderable ability, and with a boldness which
might astound any one v/ho looks at the position
which this Society occupies, ^nd the sweep of its
Influence ; and more especially, when we consider
the decorum, and the gravity, and the solemnity
which, one would think, ought to characterize
such a document, emanating from so great a body,
on such an occasion, and so exciting a theme,
when every opportunity for reflexion had been af-
forded, and when there could be little apology for
violence of language, or uncourteous demeanor,
towards public men, aad the public authorities.
Even if the existence and action of this Society
iiad been constitutional and lawful, as it v/as no
doubt thought to be by its members, still there was
something in the elevation and responsibility of its
position before the public, on account of which
the ordinary proprieties, which might seem to be
reasonably incumbent on all such bodies, had
strong claims to be respected. In all seriousness,
we do not think the time has come — certainly we
3iope not — when the political violence and rancour
of newspaper columns, can be regarded as be-
coming in such a document Could it easily be
believed, by those who have not read this Report
— a document occupying one hundred and fifty-two
■crowded octavo pages, the major part of which
breathes the same spirit — that all public men, from
ike President of the United States downwards, in-


eluding Senators, Governors, Ministers to foreign
nations, Magistrates, and officers of every grade, of
the States and Nation, who may have manifested
any symptoms of opposition to Abolitionism, or
whose pubHc acts have been unfavorable to it, are

treated as if but we will not trust ourselves to

describe it, lest we fall into the same excess of

Freedom of speech, and of the press, in treat-
ing of public men and public measures, is un-
doubtedly guaranteed by the Constitutional law of
this land ; and if this Report had emanated from
an authorised and constitutional body, no legal ex-
ception could have been taken to its character or
terms, however it might seem to be indecorous
and undignified, not to say inflammatory and in-
cendiary. In point of dignity, as being the public
and solemn act of such a body, we think there
could be but one opinion of its character. As if
the genius that presided over its composition were
not prolific enough in nerve astounding artillery, it
seems to have taken out a license to cater from the
widest range of Newspaper authorities, and ex-
parte statements and reports, for its facts and argu-
ments, and for its delicious treat of suavity and

But there is yet a more portentous aspect of this
Report, that remains to be considered. We allude
to its treatment of the decisions of the highest Le-
gislative Assembly of the Nation : the Senate and
House of Representatives of the United States.

It is well known, that the disposal made in
Congress of petitions on the subject of Abolition,
has not been agreeable to the members of this So-


ciety, although it might be difficult to see how it
could have been done very differently, so long as the
majority of both Houses were opposed to the ob-
ject; unless it be claimed as a right to occupy the
whole time of the National Legislature, in reading
and discussing these petitions, to the neglect of all
■other business, which would seem to be very un-
reasonable. No new idea could be presented; the
mind of Congress was made up ; and it would
seem to be factious to demand a separate consider-
ation of every petition on this subject, without
any prospect or hope of a different result. So far
from involving a denial of the right of petition,
any other course would have been a manifest vio-
lation of public duty, in neglecting the ordinary
■and other affairs of legislation. The wishes of
these petitioners being known, the design of the
Constitution in regard to such a matter was ^n-
•swered ; and so long as they were known to be a
very small minority of the nation, and the great
majority opposed, no action on the subject, in the
•way of legislation, could be expected. It would
"be altogether unreasonable, and " contrary to the
principles of our republican form of Crovernment."
Moreover, the great majority of both houses of
Congress considered it, not only disturbing, but
unconstitutional, either for them, as a branch of
the Government, or for the people, not citizens of
the Slave States, to meddle with the subject, with
a view to legislatiorn, as these petitions requested.
<3f course, no farther action could be expected, in
that quarter, till the use of the elective franchise
might carry into Congress a set of men of a dif-
Cereint opinion.



Not to speak particularly of the charges of vitf"
latmg the Constitution, thrown upon the House of
Representatives, by this Report ; or of its " sedi-
tious members," as it calls them ; or of the " de-
moniac yells," by which the remonstrance of the
Ex-President Adams was silenced ; it is more to
our present purpose to call attention to the treat-
ment rendered to the Senate, in this same docu-
ment, for the resolutions passed in that body on
this subject, in January, 1838: —

" Neither humanity, nor patriotism, will permit
us to pass over this proceeding of the Senate,
without setting it in what seems to us its true light.
We pronounce it a bootless usurpation — an act

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Online LibraryCalvin ColtonAbolition a sedition. By a northern man → online text (page 3 of 13)