Henry May.

Speech of Hon. Henry May, of Maryland, delivered in the House of representatives, at the third session of the Thirty-seventh Congress .. (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryHenry MaySpeech of Hon. Henry May, of Maryland, delivered in the House of representatives, at the third session of the Thirty-seventh Congress .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


1 * °* o

4.° •


. Vtf

<ts c*






<V *o . » <• .(?

Copied from the Congressional Globe.






At t9e Third Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress.

Address upon the Death of Senator Pearce.

Speech Against the War and Arming Negroes, and for Peace and

Speech Against Indemnifying Executive Tyranny, and continuing
it by Suspending the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

An Appendix containing some Proceedings of Congress, especially
interesting to the People of Maryland.



No. 1 T 4 Baltimore Street.


E 4 r?


The death of the Hon. James Alfred Pearce, late Senator from Maryland, having been an
nounced in the House of Representatives, on the 13th of January,' 1863,

Mr. MAY, of Maryland, said :

Mr. Speaker : I have only been apprised since I came into this Hall, that
these sad ceremonies of respect to our distinguished colleague, were appointed
for to-day. I wish, sir, to offer my tribute to his memory. He honored
me with his friendship for many years, and in the last months of his life
freely imparted to me his views upon the vital questions which now, unhap-
pily, divide our country. I am authorized to speak for him here upon those
questions ; and I wish, if the unpremeditated thoughts and feelings suggested
by the occasion, or awakened by the touching and eloquent tributes of the
distinguished gentlemen who have preceded me, may go in place of more studied
eulogy, to offer them just as they spring from my heart. I desire to speak of
the respect in which he was held by those who, in the divisions of political
sentiment, as represented in party organization, having opposed him throughout
the greater portion of his life, at length discovering that he was a public man
who followed " principles, and not men," honored him with the highest testi-
mony of their confidence, and committed to him the representation of the
sovereignty of their State. For the Democratic party of the State of Maryland,
I speak ; and also for those of all parties who believed with him that the Consti-
tution of this land was made for war as well as for peace ; nay, sir, who believe
that its strongest and most priceless sanctions were designed as bulwarks against
the tendencies of arbitrary power supported by military authority, and therefore
have a higher obligation in war than in peace. For those in our State who,
while acknowledging all the delegated powers of the Federal Government, yet
retain an equal reverence and respect for the reserved rights of the States, I also
bear testimony of their respect for his distinguished public life — a lifo which
illustrated, in a long public service, all those virtues which can adorn a high
and pure-minded republican Kepresentative. For all these classes of our
fellow-citizens, I wish to pay the tribute of their respect for his character and
public services, and to express their profound sorrow for his death.

Mr. Speaker, when the storms of passion had prostrated the assembled Eep-
resentatives in both Halls of this Capitol, our Senator stood, amid the few, firm
and erect. Broken in health, his vital powers almost exhausted, he yet marched
up with the remnant of his life to the side of the bleeding Constitution of his
country, and gave his latest efforts to sustain it. He did all that a public man
could do here to support the paramount authority of the Constitution, and to

oppose and defy the exertions of arbitrary power. I remember with infinite
pleasure, and repeat it here with delight, that one of the last efforts of his public
service was a noble speech vindicating his fellow-citizens of Maryland against
the criminal and cruel oppressions under which they were then suffering. I
remember how his heart, the seat of his fatal disease, pulsating with a noble
enthusiasm and sympathy for them, and beating too warmly, denied him the
utterance of speech, and compelled him to retire from the Senate and seek the
quiet of his chamber ; and well do I remember another most gratifying instance
of his spirit of liberty. It was my duty, as a Eepresentative of the State of
Maryland, to take counsel of his experience in one of the rooms of the Capitol,
touching an atrocious and unparalleled outrage on the judiciary of our State, by
dragging from the bench 'an honored, eminent, and faithful magistrate, scattering
his blood upon the ermine, and well nigh taking his life by the hands of armed
ruffians ; and I can never forget the glow of indignation that kindled his eye
and swelled his breast at the. recital of the facts. The excitement was too strong
for his enfeebled frame, and he sunk under the exhaustion of his own noble
enthusiasm. If he could do no more to vindicate the authority of the Constitu-
tion of his country than he did accomplish, it was because he was denied the
power to do it by the prostration of his vital functions, and the unheeding
passions that prevailed. The worthless tenement of flesh could not support the
struggles of its undying guest. Sir, he felt that it was his duty to prevent and
redress, and not invite or provoke, the further aggressions of a reckless tyranny.
He so stated his views to me.

Mr. Speaker, let no advocate of unlicensed power, dare claim an approbation
of his viows because this eminent Senator did not wrestle more conspicuously
with arbitrary power in the halls of Congress ; nor let any complaining victim
of tyranny question the integrity or the noble devotion of his services in their
behalf; nor yet must any self-applauding martyr of liberty, attempt to gain a
passing notoriety at the expense of the fame of this departed statesman of
Maryland ; but let these, and all of us, draw from the contemplation of his life,
on this solemn occasion, instruction that may be salutary. Let us learn from
the moderation and fidelity of his character, to admire in our public stations,
and seek those duties which look to conciliation, compromise, and concord. Let
no wrongs suffered, no resentment fixed in our breasts, move us from the
discharge of these sacred duties ; but let us try, through the common suffering
that afflicts the land, to walk out from the dominion of passion, purified,
regenerated and disenthralled.

1 trust, Mr. Speaker, that, speaking from my heart, as I ought to speak on an
occasion like this, I trespass not against the limits which ought to be observed in
discussing the virtues of an eminent statesman. I must speak now, sir, as I
feel. While commending to public praise and respect the memory and services of
this distinguished man, I must be allowed to distinguish him as one who, having
sworn to support the Constitution of his country, to the latest moment of his
life, and through every trial, kept the faith of that obligation to his Maker and
his fellow citizens. He rests, now, near the banks of the Chesapeake. The
flowers which the distinguished gentleman from Kentucky described so beauti-
fully as surrounding his grave, are symbols not only of his taste, but also of his

immortality. And may we not trust, too, that the blossoms and fruits which
opened and adorned his life here, will also be more gloriously unfolded and
ripened in a higher and brighter sphere.

Mr. Speaker, while we deplore the loss of such public characters in this
time of our national afflictions, may we not inquire why, in the inscrutable
decrees of Providence, those gifted, experienced, and good men, whose lives were
consecrated to the public service and to the welfare of their fellow-men, are
removed from us ? We cannot presume to penetrate the mysteries of divine
wisdom. AVe must accept those providential lessons as teaching us that the cup
of our adversity is not yet full ; that the chastening rod is not yet to be broken ;
and also solemnly admonishing us that passion is perhaps yet longer to have its
sway. But are we not authorized to call upon those ascended statesmen who,
like him, have passed from earth ; all those great and good men who devoted
their lives and talents to establish and maintain the principles embodied in our
Constitution, which not only form the bond of our union, but which are higher
and infinitely more priceless than it ; those principles of civil liberty which form
the foundations on which the whole fabric of the happiness of man under every
form of free government rests ? May we not expect, I repeat, that the spirits of
the great statesmen who formed this noble structure of our government, and
those who came after them and supported its pure and faithful administration —
ay, sir, and the thousands of citizens whose souls have gone from ensanguined
battle-fields — will be assembled witnesses at the bar of Heaven, pleading the
cause of their bleeding country, and that the Almighty Ruler of all nations,
responding in His good time, will send down His angel of peace among us?
Such, sir, is my devout prayer.








In the House of Representatives, February 2d, 18G3.

The House having under consideration bill No. 675, to raise additional soldiers for the service
of the Government —

Mr. MAY said :

Mr. Speaker,— The respect that I feel for the people of the State I in part
represent; my knowledge of their feelings, their interests, and, I believe, their
ultimate determination, require me to state some objections to this measure.
With respect to the relations of this question as one of Federal power, I am
dismissed from all obligation to consider it. As propounding a scheme of
military strength, the bill is simply preposterous. As an evidence of national'
policy, it is eminently disgraceful. Sir, it will fail, and the enlightened
opinion of mankind will pronounce upon the attempt a condign judgment. To
us who are familiar with the characteristics of the African race, these theories
that sentimental gentlemen on the other side so frequently present, but serve to
amuse. Their ideas of the perfectibility of the negro are another lesson to
instruct us in that mortal presumption which raises questions with eternal
power, and challenges the plans of the Creator.

Sir, I never hear these platitudes sounded in this Hall and intended to elevate
the negro to the same scale of being with the white man, without recognizing
an attempt to overthrow those gradations which He has established in the distri-
butions of intellect, and am reminded of the admonitions of that noble Essay
on Man, which I beg leave now to repeat for the edification of these gentlemen :

" Go, wiser thou, and in thy scale of sense
Weigh thy opinion against Providence,
Call imperfection what thou fanciest such ;
Say, here He gives too little, there too much.
Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust,
And cry, if man's unhappy, God's unjust ;
If man alone engross not Heaven's high care,
Alone made mortal here, immortal there,
Snatch from His hand the balance and the rod,
Rojudgc His justice, be the God of God."


them against becoming pledged to the support of a war " which would require
them to disguise their civilization with the paint of the savage, and pursuing
the war paths of this Administration, seize the tomahawk and scalping knife/'
results from which they now so instinctively recoil.

The present condition of our country can find no parallel in history. In
vain can an example be searched for. A people the freest and happiest of the
earth, we were blessed with the best Government that ever has existed. Provi-
dence seemed to have preserved our continent undiscovered until the progress of
the principles of free government were sufficiently matured by the wise and
good of the earth, to make America the appointed place for their development
and happy trial. The circumstances of our settlement, the various types of the
early emigrants, the differences of religion, of habits, manners, customs, and
institutions, all these conspired to help the hopeful problem. And when the
purifying fires of our glorious Revolution lit up the high motives and exalted
the natures that made the patriot and the hero of 1789, then all that Heaven
could do, and more than it had ever before vouchsafed to man, was done, to
erect the noblest structure of a free government that had blessed the earth.
Those patriot heroes did the rest. Consummate wisdom and a noble disinterest-
edness of purpose, guided by moderation, conciliation, and a spirit of compro-
mise, enabled these great men to finish the grand work of our majestic Constitu-
tion. Those who came next after them imitated their virtues and followed their
example. The Government of the United States flourished, expanded, and
became at length the admitted equal of the greatest of earthly Powers, the most
admired of nations,

" The land of the free and the home of the brave."

Unexampled prosperity and power had been gained. The oppressed of the
world hailed our asylum of liberty, and the divine right of monarchs began " to
pale its ineffectual fires " before the radiant splendor of our new Piepublic. The
present and the future, the citizen and the sojourner, the emigrant, the sighing
children of liberty everywhere hailed our United States as the perfection of
human government.

But, sir, the necessities of labor and the cupidity of commerce sowed the fatal
seeds of our discord. The ill-fated children of Africa, though led out from the
captivity of barbarism, darkened as by a shadow the bright focus of our culti-
vation and finally have eclipsed it; and strangely and mysteriously the barba-
rism of Africa seems now about to subdue the civilization of America.

African slavery was established in all the colonies, and those who are now
engaged in destroying it, have inherited and enjoyed the wealth it helped to
create. Climate and soil unsuited to the negro slave banished him from New
England and the North to the warmer regions of the South, and " a compen-
sated emancipation " from a fruitless dominion, fully satisfied all the demands of
conscience or humanity. There was then no sin in bringing these human chat-
tels from their native shores — in originating their sad enslavement, or in parting
from it for money. "The precious price told down" then purged the moral
sight, and slavery stood only revealed in hideous wickedness when interest
stepped aside and was released. Sir, foreseeing this result and fearing it, the
founders of our system provided every security against it. Before the Union


could be established, the strongest and most binding covenants that man can
make in forms of government were provided, and faith, sacred faith in these
guards of slavery, were mutually given and accepted. No stronger obligation
can man give to man than our Constitution provides for this. It is in vain, sir,
to consider any other or further guarantees. If these be not' strong enough, if
faith such as this is to be broken, then there is nothing of human institution
that can endure, and we find the inevitable end of free consented Government.
The sin of slavery, if it be such, may be carried by a " higher law " to
Heaven ; but here upon this earth of ours, faith, the bond, the law, the Consti-
tution — these are its justifications. Our present national afflictions are the
direct results of an intermeddling spirit at the North. Over and over again
have the slaveholding States argued, remonstrated, appealed in every way, by
every effort, to restrain the aggressive spirit of the North from these invasions
on its rights of domestic slavery ; and though often j>assion has defied and
denounced its progress, reason has not failed to use its persuasive power. Com-
promise after compromise has been made, in the hope of averting or postponing
the evil day of apprehended separation. Sir, the convulsions of these attempts
were the disregarded warnings of our present calamity. For years, for many
years, have patient, thoughtful statesmen and patriots from North and South, in
most impressive lessons, warned our countrymen, and predicted our present
situation as the inevitable result of these aggressions. But, alas, in vain. Insti-
gated by the earnestness and success of a small but mischievous party of fanatics,
the lust of political power at the North, at length seized upon the subject of sla-
very, and employed its humanitarian aspects for the mere sake of office, or the
rewards of party success ; regardless of all the most sacred obligations of Gov-
ernment — thus establishing a general and defiant spirit of lawlessness which,
habitually aggressing upon the plainest rights of equality, left no hope of future
peace and security to the South. And while slavery was to be abolished at all
events, yet no one among its wisest enemie's at the North was able to discover a
practicable plan for the future disposal of the emancipated slave ; nor, sir, to
this hour has any such plan been provided. And while the non-slaveholding
States are equally responsible for the existence of slavery among us, and are
confessedly unable to relieve its evils — if such there are — and the slaveholding
States are equally powerless to remove them, we yet find that such plans of
alleviation and ultimate relief as the policy of their laws or schemes of coloniza-
tion have attempted, have been thwarted by the mischievous designs of the
people of the North. The more improved and cultivated black man being
refused a residence among them by the policy of the laws of some of the free
States, resulting from the evils attending such residence, yet nevertheless these
disinterested citizens of such States would inflict the greater evils of a perma-
nent abode of the half-civilized negro among the people of the South. Deliver-
ing themselves by a gradual process from the evils attending the abolition of
slavery, they propose, suddenly and without preparation, to set free the slaves
of the South, and bring inevitable ruin upon the interests dependent upon their
labor ; nay, more than this, would instigate the forceful brutal passions of the
slave, on principles " of self-defense," as the proclamation insidiously presents
it, to take the torch, or poison, or the knife against sleeping wife and children.


Mr. Speaker, it was the settled conviction in the minds of the people of the
South that such were the plans of the people of the North, and that the Federal
power was to be the instrument of such savage aggressions, that caused the
secession of their States. They felt, and all who understand the subject know
how just and natural was the feeling, that such a state of constant and increas-
ing apprehension had rendered the influence of the General Government insup-
portable. They felt that not only Government, but even life itself was not
worth having, upon the terms of such habitual strife, anxiety, and alarm — the
Government of the United States had failed, or was about to fail, in those great
objects of " establishing justice," " insuring domestic tranquility," and " pro-
moting the general welfare," and which concerned so vitally their rights and
happiness ; and they resolved to separate from a Government they could no
longer either trust or endure. Sir, they did complain of the injustice that
sectional interests of manufactures or of commerce had inflicted ; but the influ-
ence of this complaint, while it added to the prevailing discontent by ascribing
a selfish and domineering spirit to the North, offensive to ideas of equality, and
raising up views of incompatible and conflicting interests ; yet these causes alone
could never have separated our Union.

If the existence of these destructive influences has been heretofore denied, is
there not now too much reason to feel convinced that, however concealed, they
have existed ? Do not the feelings and motives that are signified in these
measures now presented, and in the kindred transactions of Congress and the
Executive, give every true lover of republican government the right to say, that
what was a rebellion against law now stands justified before God, and the nations-
of the earth, as a revolution against the most direful oppressions that have ever
threatened mankind ? Happily, however, sir, those whom the calamities of war
have most afflicted, are to be spared the terrible vengeance now denounced
against them ; and the menaces of the proclamation and of these measures are
turned into an invincible sword of defense. But loyal Maryland, Kentucky,
Missouri, and Delaware, these so proclaimed and praised for their devotion, are
to be the victims ; faithful and defenseless, the sword of the presidential wrath
pierces, their vitals through the sides of the bleeding Constitution which they
have so faithfully supported.

I repeat, it was the settled conviction of the southern slaveholding States that
an " irrepressible conflict " did actually exist between them and the people and
States of the North, and which was promoted by the latter ; that " all must be
free or all slave ;" " that a house divided against itself cannot stand." Sir, it
was the conviction forced upon the people of the South, that these emphatic
enunciations of opinion were but the "slogans" of an inevitable oppression that
was fast approaching, was then in effect inaugurated with authority and power,
which could not be averted, and would, unless at once resisted, attack and
destroy their sacred rights of personal liberty, of personal security, and private
property, the fundamental rights of man, and for which, if he will not give bat-
tle, he deserves to lose.

They believed that the North was abolitionized, and had consequently abjured
the obligations of any covenant with slavery, however solemnly made. This it
was that made them renounce their allegiance and withdraw from the Union.


Before the Supreme Judge of the world they opened their hearts and resolved
to offer up to Him the responsibilities of their cause upon the held of battle.
Sir, have not enough bleeding souls testified to these convictions in Heaven
already ? Have we not, their countrymen, their fellow-men, received enough
assurance of their sincerity, their devotion, their power? Must this desolating
war yet go on ?

This solemn and momentous inquiry now tortures the thoughts and anxieties
of the just and the good. I am pursuaded that the voice of all civilized and
•disinterested men is now on the side of peace — peace on any terms consistent
with our liberties and honor.

Let me, sir, briefly explore, with hopeful view, this pleasing inquiry —

•' The cause of truth, and human weal,
O God above,'
Transfer it from the sword's appeal
To peace and love."

Before I venture upon this, I wish to declare in all candor, as I ought to do,
my settled conviction, that the people of the confederated States will never
again consent to restore our political Union. I believe that their universal
determination upon this point, is final. They will not again put their trust in
the guarantees of a written Constitution with the people of the North. They
have tried it fairly, and it has failed. Sir, they believe, and I believe, that there
is established a fixed and unalterable antagonism between the sections where
slavery is and is not allowed, and that no future political Union, so long as '
slavery exists, can ever be maintained between them upon any basis whatever.

It is folly now to expect it. The part of wisdom and of duty requires us to
accept this irreversible conclusion ; and however it may disappoint our hopes or
interests, or mortify our pride, we ought at once, in the precept of our own great
Declaration of Independence, " to acquiesce in the necessity that denounces our
separation ;'' to cast the plans of our future, by the light it yet affords, or mid-
night darkness and utter ruin may ere long claim our republican destinies.

Mr. Speaker, that eminent and far-seeing statesman, the late Judge Douglas,
avowed to me in April preceding his death, his solemn conviction that our
political Union was at an end. I violate no confidence in repeating his opinions,
since he assured me it was his purpose to publish his views at an early day ;
and if the sequel of his life may seem in conflict with these views, there are
those among his personal friends, here on this floor, who can reconcile his con-
duct, and show the conformity of his plans with a peaceful, though it might be

1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryHenry MaySpeech of Hon. Henry May, of Maryland, delivered in the House of representatives, at the third session of the Thirty-seventh Congress .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 6)