Charles William Eliot.

American historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations online

. (page 29 of 48)
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the District of Columbia, shall escape therefrom, the party
to whom such service or labor shall be due, his, her, or their
agent or attorney, may apply to any court of record therein,
or judge thereof in vacation, and make satisfactory proof
to such court, or judge in vacation, of the escape afore-
said, and that the person escaping owed service or labor
to such party. Whereupon the court shall cause a record
to be made of the matters so proved, and also a general
description of the person so escaping, with such con-
venient certainty as may be ; and a transcript of such record,
authenticated by the attestation of the clerk and of the
seal of the said court, being produced in any other State,
Territory, or district in which the person so escaping may
be found, and being exhibited to any judge, commissioner,
or other officer authorized by the law of the United States
to cause persons escaping from service or labor to be deliv-
ered up, shall be held and taken to be full and conclusive
evidence of the fact of escape, and that the service or labor
of the person escaping is due to the party in such record
mentioned. And upon the production by the said party
of other and further evidence if necessary, either oral or
by aflfidavit, in addition to what is contained in the said rec-
ord of the identity of the person escaping, he or she shall
be delivered up to the claimant. And the said court, com-
missioner, judge, or other person authorized by this act
to grant certificates to claimants or fugitives, shall, upon the
production of the record and other evidences aforesaid,
grant to such claimant a certificate of his right to take any
such person identified and proved to be owing service or
labor as aforesaid, which certificate shall authorize such
claimant to seize or arrest and transport such person to the
State or Territory from which he escaped: Provided, That
nothing herein contained shall be construed as requiring
the production of a transcript of such record as evidence as
aforesaid. But in its absence the claim shall be heard and
determined upon other satisfactory proofs, competent in
Approved, September i8, 1850.

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[The platform on which Abraham lincoln was elected President
is sufficiently indicated in his inaugural address. But between the
date of his election on that platform and his inaugruration, seven
Southern States had seceded from the Union, formed a provisional
government, and seized most of the forts, etc., belonging to the
United States within the seceding territory. It was this situation
that Lincoln faced as he took up the task of government]

jniELLOW-CITIZENS of the United States: In compli-
Jf ance with a custom as old as the Government itself,
I appear before you to address you briefly, and to
take in your presence the oath prescribed by the Constitution
of the United States to be taken by the President "before
he enters on the execution of his office."

I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss
those matters of administration about which there is no
special anxiety or excitement.

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the
Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Ad-
ministration their property and their peace and personal
security are to be endangered. There has never been any
reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most
ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and
been open to their inspection. It is foimd in nearly all the
published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do
but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that
** I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with
the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I
believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no
inclination to do so." Those who nominated and elected me
did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many


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similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And,
more than this, they placed in the platform for my accept-
ance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and
emphatic resolution which I now read:

*' Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights
of the States, and especially the right of each State to order
and control its own domestic institutions according to its
own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of
power on which the perfection and endurance of our polit-
ical fabric depend, and we denounce the lawless invasion
by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory,
no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of

I now reiterate these sentiments; and, in doing so, I only
press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence
of which the case is susceptible, that the property, peace,
and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered
by the now incoming Administration. I add, too, that all
the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and
the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the
States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause — as
cheerfully to one section, as to another.

There is much controversy about the delivering up of
fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is
as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its
provisions :

" No person held to service or labor in one State, under
the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence
of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such
service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the
party to whom such service or labor may be due.**

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended
by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call
fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law.
All Members of Congress swear their support to the whole
Constitution — ^to this provision as much as to any other.
To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within
the terms of this clause, '* shall be delivered up,** their oaths
are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good
temper, could they not with nearly equal unanimity frame

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and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unan-
imous oath?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause
should be enforced by national or by State authority; but
surely that difference is not a very material one. If the
slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence
to him, or to others, by which authority it is done. And
should any one, in any case, be content that his oath shall
go unkept, on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how
it shall be kept?

Again, in any law upon this subject, ought not all the
safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane juris-
prudence to be introduced so that a free man be not, in
any case, surrendered as a slave ? And might it not be well
at the same time to provide by law for the enforcement of
that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that "the
citizen of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and
immunities of citizens in the several States " ?

I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations
and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by
any hypercritical rules. And while I do not choose now
to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be en-
forced, I do suggest that it will be much safer for all,
both in oflficial and private stations, to conform to and abide
by all those acts which stand unrepealed, than to violate any
of them trusting to find impunity in having them held to be

It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a
President under our National Constitution. During that
period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens
have, in succession, administered the Executive branch of
the Government. They have conducted it through many
perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this
scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for
the brief constitutional term of four years under great and
peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, here-
tofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.

I hold that, in contemplation of universal law and of the
Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Per-
petuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law

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of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no
government proper ever had a provision in its organic law
for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express
provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will
endure forever — it being impossible to destroy it* except by
some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again, if the United States be not a Government proper,
but an association of States in the nature of contract merely,
can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all
the parties who made it? One party to a contract may
violate it — ^break it, so to speak, but does it not require all
to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the
proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is per-
petual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The
Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, '
in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was
matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence
in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the
then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that
it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in
1778. And, finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for
ordaining and establishing the Constitution was, " to form
a more perfect Union,"

But if the destruction of the Union by one, or by a part
only, of the States be lawfuly possible, the Union is less
perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital
element of perpetuity.

It follows from these views that no State, upon its own
mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union; that
resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and
that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the
authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revo-
lutionary, according to circumstances.

I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and •
the laws, the Union is unbroken; and to the extent of my
ability I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly
enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully
executed in all of the States. Doing this I deem to be only
a simple duty on my part; and I shall perform it, so far

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as practicable, unless my rightful masters, the American
people, shall withhold the requisite means, or in some au-
thoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will
xiot be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared pur-
pose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and
maintain itself.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence;
and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national
authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold,
occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to
the Government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but
beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will
be no invasion, no using of force against or among the
people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States, in
any interior locality, shall be so great and universal as to
prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Fed-
eral offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious
strangers among the people for that object. While the
strict legal right may exist in the Government to enforce the
exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so
irritating, and so nearly impracticable withal, that I deem it
better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished
in all parts of the Union. So far as possible, the people
everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which
is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The
course here indicated will be followed unless current events
and experience shall show a modification or change to be
proper, and in every case and exigency my best discretion
will be exercised according to circumstances actually exist-
ing, and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of
the national troubles, and the restoration of fraternal sym-
pathies and affections.

That there are persons in one section or another who seek
to destroy the Union at all events, and are glad of any
pretext to do it, I will neither affirm nor deny; but if there
be such, I need address no word to them. To those, however,
who really love the Union may I not speak?

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruc-
tion of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories.

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and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely
why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step while
there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly
from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain
ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly
from — ^will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake ?

All profess to be content in the Union, if all constitu-
tional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any
right, plainly written in the Constitution, has been denied?
I think not. Happily the human mind is so constituted, that
no party can reach to the audacity of doing this. Think,
if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written
provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If by
the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a
minority in any clearly written constitutional right, it might,
in a moral point of view, justify revolution— certainly would
if such a right were a vital one. But such is not our case.
All the vital rights of minorities and of individuals are so
plainly assured to them by affirmations and negations, guar-
anties and prohibitions, in the Constitution, that controver-
sies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can
ever be framed with a. provision specifically applicable to
every question which may occur in practical administration.
No foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable
length contain, express provisions for all possible questions.
Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or
by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly
say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories?
The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress
protect slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does
not expressly say.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional
controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and
minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority
must, or the Government must cease. There is no other
alternative; for continuing the Government is acquiescence
on one side or the other.

If a minority in such case will secede rather than acqui-
esce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and
ruin them ; for a minority of their own will secede from them

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whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such nrf*
nority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new
confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again,
precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to
secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are
now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the
States to compose a new Union as to produce harmony only,
and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of
anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional
checks and limitations, and always changing easily with
deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is
the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it
does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Una-
nimity is impossible ; the rule of a minority, as a permanent
arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the
majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is
all that is left.

I do not forget the position, assumed by some, that con-
stitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court ;
nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding, in any
case, upon the parties to a suit, as to the object of that
suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and
consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments
of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that
such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the
evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case,
with the chance that it may be overruled and never become
a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could
the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the can-
did citizen must confess that if the policy of the Govern-
ment, upon vital questions affecting the whole people, is to
be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the
instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties
in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their
own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their
government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor
is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges.
It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases

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properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs
if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.

One section of our country believes slavery is right, and
ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong,
and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial
dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution, and
the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade, are
each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in
a community where the moral sense of the people imper-
fectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people
abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few
break over in each. This, I think, cannot be perfectly cured ;
and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of
the sections, than before. The foreign slave trade, now
imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without
restriction, in one section; while fugitive slaves, now only
partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by
the other.

Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot
remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an
impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may
be divorced, and go out of the presence and beyond the
reach of each other; but the different parts of our country
cannot do this. They cannot but remain face to face, and
intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between
them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more
advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than
before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can
make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced be-
tween aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you
go to war, you cannot fight always; and when, after much
loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease fight-
ing, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse
are again upon you.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people
who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the
existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional
right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dis-
member or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact
that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of

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having the National Constitution amended. While I make
no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the
rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to
be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instru-
ment itself; and I should, under existing circumstances,
favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded
the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to
me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows
amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead
of only permitting them to take or reject propositions orig-
inated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and
which might not be precisely such as they would wish to
either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment
to the Constitution — which amendment, however, I have not
seen — has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal
Government shall never interfere with the domestic institu-
tions of the States, including that of persons held to service.
To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from
my purpose, not to speak of particular amendments, so far
as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied
constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made
express and irrevocable.

The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the
people, and they have conferred none upon him to fix terms
for the separation of the States. The people themselves
can do this also if they choose; but the Executive, as such,
has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the
present Government, as it came to his hands, and to transmit
it, unimpaired by him, to his successor.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ulti-
mate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal
hope in the world? In our present differences is either
party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty
Ruler of Nations, with his eternal truth and justice, be on
your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth
and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this
great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the Government under which we live,
this same people have wisely given their public servants but
little power for mischief; and have, with equal wisdom,

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provided for the return of that little to their own hands
at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue
and vigilance, no administration, by any extreme of wicked-
ness or folly, can very seriously injure the government in
the short space of four years.

My countrymen, one and all» think calmly and well upon
this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking
time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot
haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that
object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object
can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatis-
fied, still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the
sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it;
while the new Administration will have no immediate power,
if it would, to change cither. If it were admitted that you
who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there
still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelli-
gence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him
who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still com*
petent to adjust, in the best way, all our present diflSculty.

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not
in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Govern*
ment will not assail you. You dan have no conflict without
being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath regis-
tered in Heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall
have the most solemn one to ** preserve, protect, and defend

I am loth to close. We arc not enemies, but friends. We
must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained,
it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords
of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot
grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this
broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when
again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels
of our nature.

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Online LibraryCharles William EliotAmerican historical documents 1000-1904, with introductions, notes and illustrations → online text (page 29 of 48)