William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

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spreads its shield over slavery. These limits
are, "the States in which slavery exists."
Beyond these it recognizes no property in
man, and, of courae, beyond these it cannot
take this property under its protection. The
moment the slave leaves the States within
which slavery exists, the Constitution knows
nothing of him as property. Of consequence,
the national government has no right to touch
the case of the Creole. As soon as that vessel
passed beyond the jurisdiction of the State
where she received her passengers, the slaves
ceased to be property, in the e>'e of the Con-
stitution. 'Hie national authorities were no
longer bound to interfere with and to claim
them as such. The nation's force was no
longer pledged to subject them to their masters.
Its relation to them had wholly ceased. On
this point we are bound to adopt the strictest
construction of the instrument. The Free
States should not suffer themselves to be
carried a hair's breadth beyond the line within
which they are pledged to the dishonoiurable
ofhce of protecting slavery.

But, leaving this clause, I return to the first
consideration adduced to substantiate the
claim of the CreoU to the assistance of the

• Madison P»pew. p. ifg^

British authorities. Tlie voyage, w% am toki.
was " perfectly lawful.'' Beitsa But this
circumstance, aooordiag to the. principles of
the Free States, involves no (A>ligation of
another commimity to enforce slavesy, or to
withhold from the slave the rights of a man.
Suppose that the CreoU had sailed to Massa-
chusetts with her slaves. The vo3^age would
have been "lawiul^ hut on entering the
port of Boston her slaves would have been
ponounced free. The "right of property"
in them conferred by a Slave Stale vooid
have ceased. The lawfulness of the voyage,
then, gives the slave-holder no claim on aiu>tber
government into the ports of wiiich his dsve
may be carried.

Again, what is meant by the " perCect law-
fulness" of the voyage? Does it mean that
the CreoU shipped the slaves under tlie law ol
nattue or the law of Great Britain ? CertaiBly
not ; but solely under the law of America;
so that the old question recurs. Whether a
local, municipal law, authorizing an American
vesspl to convey slaves, binds all nacioos, to
whose territory these unhappy persons may be
carried, to regard them as property, to treat
them as the pariahs of the human race. Hiis
is the simple question, and one not bard of

" The voyage was perfectly lawfril," we aie
told. So would be the voyage of a Turkish
ship freighted with Christian slaves frtxn Con-
stantinople. Suppose such a vessel driven by
storms or carried by force into a Christian
port. Would any naUion in Europe, or would
America, feel itself bound to assist the
Turkish slaver, to replace the chaina 00
Christian captives whom the elements or their
own courage had set free, to sacrifice to ttac
comity and hospitality and usages of nations
the law of humanity and Christian brother-

• • The voyage," we are told, ' * vwu perfectly
lawful." Suppose now that a slave-holdiDg
coimtry should pass a law ordaining and
describing a chain as a badge of boi^aee,
and authorizing the owner to carry about nis
slave fastened to himself by this sign of pro-
perty. Suppose the master to go with davc
and chain to a foreign country. His journey
would be ' • lawful ; " but would the foreign
government be bound to respect this ordinance
of the distant state? Would the authorted
chain establish property in the slave over the
whole earth? We know it would not; and
why should the authorised vessel impM a
more real obligation?

It seems to be supposed by some that dMn
is a peculiar sacredness in a vessel, wtiicli «(•
empts it from all control in the ports of tAff
nations. A vessel is sometimes said to-'^
"an extension of the territory" to 'wbMift
belongs. The nation, we are ttfld, f

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in the vessel, and its honour and rights are in-
volved in the treatment which its flag receives
abroad. These ideas are in the main true in
regard to ships on the high seas. The sea is
the exclusive property of no nation. It is
subject to none. It is the common and equal
property of all. No state has jurisdiction over
it. No state can write its laws on that restless
surface. A ship at sea carries with her and
represents the rights of her country— rights
equal to those which any other enjoys. The
slightest application ci the laws of another
nation to her is to be resisted. She is sub-
jected to no law but that of her own country,
and to the law of nations, which presses
equally on all states. She may thus be called,
with no violence to language, an extension oif
the territory to which she belongs. But sup>-
pose her to quit the open sea and enter a port,
what a change is produced in her condition 1
At sea she sustained the same relations to all
nations — those of an equal Now she sustains
a new and peculiar relation to the nation
which she has entered. She passes at once
under its jurisdiction. She is subject to its
laws. She is entered by its ofhoers. If a
criminal flies to her for shelter, he may be pur-
sued and apprehended. If her own men vio-
late the laws of the land, they may be seized
and punished. The nation is not present in
her. She has left the open highway of the
(xrean, where all nations are equals, and en-
tered a port where one nation alone is clothed
with authority. What matters it that a vessel
in the harbour of Nassau is owned in America?
This does not change her locality. She has
contracted new duties and obligations by
being placed under a new jurisdiction. Her
relations difler essentially from those which
she sustained at home or on the open sea.
These remarks apply, of course, to merchant
vessels alone. A ship of war is "an extension
of the territory" to which she belongs, not
only when she is on the ocean, but in a foreign
port. In this respect she resembles an army
marching by consent through a neutral coun-
try. Neither ship of war nor army falls under
the jurisdiction of foreign states. Merchant
vessels resemble individuals. Both become
subject to the laws of the land which they

We are now prepared to consider the next
circumstance, on which much stress is laid to
substantiate the claim of our government.
••The vessel was taken to a British port, not
voluntarily, by those who had the lawful au-
thority over her, but forcibly and violently,
against the master's will, by mutineers and
murderers," &c.

To this various replies are contained in the
preceding remarks. The first is, that the local
tws of one country are not transported to
another and do not become of force there.

because a vessel of the former is carried by
violence into the ports of the latter. Another
is, that a vessel entering the harbour of a
foreign state, through mutiny or violence, is
not on this account exempted from its juris-
diction or laws. She may not set its authori-
ties at defiance because brought within its
waters against her own will. There may,
indeed,' be local laws intended to exclude
foreigners, which it would be manifestly unjust
and inhuman to enforce on such as may
be driven to the excluding state against their
own consent. But as to the laws of a coimtry
founded on the universal principles of justice
and humanity, these are binding on foreign
vessels under whatever circumstances they
may be brought within its jurisdiction. There
is still another view of this subject, which I
have already urged, but which is so impor-
tant as to deserve repetition. The right of
the slaves of the Creole to Uberation was not
at all touched by the mode in which they
were brought to Nassau. No matter how
they got there, whether by sea, land, or air,
whether by help of saint or sinner. A man's
right to freedom is derived from none of these
accidents, but inheres in him as a man, and
nothing which does not touch his humanity
can impair it. The slaves of the Creole were
not a whit the less men because "mutiny"
had changed their course on the ocean. They
stood up in the port of Nassau with all the
attributes of men, and the government could
not without wrong have denied their character
and corresponding claims.

We are now prepared for the consideration
of another circumstance in the case of the
Creole, on which stress is laid. We are told
by our government that they were "still in
the ship ' when they were declared free, and
on this account their American character,
that is, the character of slavery, adhered to
them. This is a view of the case more fitted,
perhaps, than any other to impress the incon-
siderate. The slaves had not changed their
position — had not touched the shore. The
vessel was American. They trod on American
planks; they slept within American walls.
They of course belonged to America, and
were to be viewed only in their American
character. To this reasoning the principles
already laid down furnish an easy answer. It
is true that the slaves were in an American
ship; but there is another truth still more
pregnant ; they were also in another country.
Where American law has no power. The
vessel had not carried America to the i>ort of
Nassau. The slaves had changed countries.
What though they were there in an American
ship? They were therefore not the less within
English territory and English jurisdiction.
The two or three inches of plank which sepa-
rated them from the waves had no miraculous

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power to prevent them from being where they
were. The water which embosomed the vessel
was English. The air they breathed was
English. The laws under which they had
pa^ed were English. One would think, from
the reasoning to which I am relying, that
the space occupied by a vessel m a foreign
port is separated for a time from the country
to which it formerly belonged ; that it takes
the character of the vessel, and faUs under the
laws of the land to which she appertains ;
that the authorities which have controlled it
for ages must not enter it, whilst the foreign
planks are floating in it, to repress crime or
enforce justice. But this is all a fiction. The
slaves, whilst in the ship, were in a foreign
country, as truly as if they had plunged into
the waves or set foot on shore.

We will now consider another circumstance
to which importance is attached in the docu-
ment of our Executive. We are told that
" the slaves could not be regarded as having
become mixed up or incorporated with the
British population, or as having changed
character at all, either in regard to country
or personal condition." To this it is replied,
that no one pretends that the slaves had
become Englishmen, or had formed a special
relation to Great Britain, on account of which
she was compelled to liberate them. It was
not as a part of the British population that
they were declared free. Had the authorities
at Nassau taken this ground, they might have
been open to the complaints of our govern-
ment. The slaves were pronoimced free, not
because of any national character which they
sustained, but because they were men, and
because Great Britain held itself bound to
respect the law of nature with regard to men.
It was not necessary for them to be incorpo-
rated with the British population in order to
acquire the common rights of human beings.
One great error in the document is. that a
government is supposed to owe nothing to a
human being who lands on its shores, any
further than his nation may require. It is
thought to have nothing to do but to inquire
into his nationality and to fulfil the obliga-
tions which this imposes. He has no rights
to set up, unless his own government stand
by him. Thus the fundamental principles of
the law of nature are set at naught. Thus
all rights are resolved into benefactions of the
state, and man is nothing, unless incorpo-
rated, mixed up, with the population of a
particular country. This doctrine is too
monstrous to be openly avowed, but it lies at
the foundation of most of the reasonings of
the document. The man, I repeat it, is older
and more sacred than the citizen. The slave
of the Crco/e had no other name to take.
His own country had declared him not to be
a cituen. He had been scornfully refused a

place among the American people. He was
only a Man ; and was that alow title on which
to stand up among men? Nature knows no
higher on earth. English law knows no
higher. Shall we find fault with a country
because an outcast man landing on its shore
is declared finee without the formality of be-
coming incorporated with its population?

The slaves, we are told in the argument
which we are considering, as they had no
claim to be considered as mixed up with
the British population, had not, tbereiore,
changed their character either in regard to
" country or condition." The old sophistry
reigns here. It is taken for granted that a
man has no character but that of country ami
condition. In other words, he must be re-
garded by foreign states as bdonging to a
particular nation, and treated according to
this view, and no other. Now the truth is.
that there is a primitive, indehble " character"
fastened on a man, far more important than
that of ' ' country or condition ; " and. looking
at this, I joyftilly accord with our Cabinet in
saying that the slaves of the Cre&U did not
" chemge their character " by touching Bnti^
soil. There they stood with the character
which God impressed on them, and whidi
man can never efiace. The British authorities
gave them no new character, but simply re-
cognized that which they had worn from the
day of their birth — the only one which cannot
pass away.

I have now considered all the circumstances
stated in the document as grounds <^ ooro-
plaint, with one exception, and this I tm^re
deferred on account of its uncertainty, and in
the hope of obtaining more satisfactory infenr-
mation. The circumstance is this, "that the
slaves were Ut>erated by the interference ol
the colonial authorities;" that these "not
only gave no aid, but did actually interfere to
set free the slaves, and to enable them to dis-
perse themselves beyond the reach of the
master of the vessel or their owners." This
statement is taken from the protest of the
captain and crew made at New Orleans,
which, indeed, uses much stronger language,
and charges on the British authorities mudi
more exceptionable interference. This, as I
have said, is to be suspected of exaggeration
or unjust colouring, not on the ground of «iy
peculiar falseness In the men who sigiMMd k,
but because of the tendency of passion and
interest to misconstrue tlie ofiensive conduct
of others. But admitting the correctness of
the protest, we caimot attach importance to
the complaint of the document. This insists
that the Enghsh authorities " interiered to
set free the slaves." I reply that the nutbo-
rities dki not and coukl not set the coloi«9d
men free, and for the plain reason that they
were in no sense slaves in the British poiU

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The authorities found them, in the first in-
stance, both legally and actually free. How,
then, could they be liberated ? They stood
before the magistrates free at the first mo-
ment. They had passed beyond the legisla-
tion of the state which had imposed their
chains. They had come under a jurisdiction
which knew nothing of property in man,
nothing of the relation of master and slave.
As soon as they entered the British waters,
the legal power of the captain over them,
whatever it might have been, ceased. They
were virtually ** beyond his reach, " even
whilst on board. Of course, no act of the
authorities was needed for their liberation.

But this is not all. The coloured men were
not only legally free on entering the British
port, xhev were so actually and as a matter of
fact. The British authorities had not the
merit of exerting the least ph3rsical power to
secure to them their right to hber^. The
slaves had liberated themselves, lliey had
imprisoned the captain. They had tak^ the
command of the vessel. The British autho-
rities interfered to liberate, not the coloured
people, but the captain; not to uphold, but
arrest "the mutineers." Their action was
friendly to the officers and crew. In all this
action, however, they did nothing, of course,
to reduce the slaves a second time to bondage.
Had they, in restoring the vessel to the cap-
tain, replaced, directly or mdtrectly, the libe-
rated slaves under the yoke, they would have
done so at their peril. How, then, could they
finee those whom they knew only as free?
They simply declared them f r ee declared a
matter of fact which could not be gainsaid.
If they persuaded them to leave the ship,
they plainly acted in this as counsellors and
friends, and exerted no official power.

It is said, indeed, in the protest, that the
magistrates "commanded" the slaves to go
on shore. If this be true, and if the com-
mand were accompanied with any force, they
indeed committed a wrong ; but one. I fear,
for which our govenmient will be slow to
seek redress. They wronged the Uberated
slaves, lliese were free, and owed no obe-
dience to such a command. They had a
right to stay where they vrere, a right to
return to America ; and in being compelled
to go on shore they received an injury for
which our government, if so disposed, may
make complaint. But the shives alone were
the injured party. The right of the owner
was not violated, for he had no right. His
claim was a nullity in the British port. He
was not known there. The law on which he
stood in his own country was there a dead
letter. Who can found on it a complaint
against the British government ?

It is said that the " comity of nations" for-
bade this interference. But this comity is a

vague, unsettled law, and ought not to come
into competition with the obligations of a
state to injured men thrown on its protection,
and whose liv6s and liberties are at stake.*
We must wait, however, for further light from
Nassau, to comprehend the whole case. It
is not impossible that the authorities at that
port exerted an undue influence, and took on
themselves an undue responsibility. Among
the liberated slaves there were imdoubtedly
not a few so ignorant and helpless as to be
poorly fitted to seek their fortune in the West
Indies, among strangers little disposed to
sympathize with their sufferings, or aid their
inexperience. These ought to have been
assured of their liberty; but they should
have been left to follow, without any kind of
resistance, their shrinking from an unknown
shore, and their desire to return to the land
of their birth, whenever these feeUngs were

I know not that I have overlooked any of
the considerations which are urged in the
Executive document in support of our com-
plaints against Great Britain in the case of
the CreoU, I have laboured to understand
and meet their full force. I am sorry to
have been obliged to enter into these so
minutely, and to repeat what I deem true
principles so often. But the necessity was
laid on me. The document does not lay
down explicitly any great principle with which
our claim must stand or fall. Its strength
lies in the skilful suggestion of various circum-
stances which strike the common reader, and
which must successively be examined, to show
their insufficiency to the end for which they
are adduced. It is possible, however, to give
something of a general form to the opinions
expressed in it, and to detect under these a
general principle. This I shall proceed to
do, as necessary to the full comprehension of
this paper. The opinions scattered through
the document may be thus expressed: —
*• Slaves, pronounced to be property by
American law, and shipped as such, ought
to be so regarded by a foreign government on
whose shores they may be thrown. This
government is bound to regard the national
stamp set on them. It has no right to inqmre
Into the condition of these persons. It cannot
give to them the character or privileges of the
country to which they are carried. Suppose
a government to have declared opium a thing
in which no property can lawfully exist or h«
asserted. Would it, therefore, have a right
to take the character of property from opium,
when driven in a foreign ship into its ports,
and to cast it into the sea ? Certainly not.
Neither, because it declares that men cannot
be property, can it take this character from
slaves, when they are driven into its ports
• Se« Not«B at end of thU artick.

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from a countnr which makes them property
by its laws. They still belong to the distant
claimant ; his right must not be questioned
or disturbed; and he must be aided in hold-
ing them in bondage, if his power over them
is endangered by distress or mutiny." Such
are the opinions of the document, in a con-
densed form, and they involve one great
principle, namely, this : that property is an
arbitrary thing, created by governments ; that
a government may make anything property
at its will ; and that what its subjects or
citizens hold as property, under this sanction,
must be regarded as such, without inquiry,
by the civilized world. According to the
document, a nadon may attach the character
of property to whatever it pleases ; may
attach It alike to men and women, beef and
pork, cotton and rice ; and other nations,
mto whose ports its vessels may pass, are
bound to respect its laws in these particulars,
and in case of distress to assist in enforcing
them. Let our country, through its estab-
lished government, declare our fathers or
mothers, sons or daughters, to be property,
and they become such, and the right of the
master must not be questioned at home or

Now this doctrine, stated in plain language,
needs no laboured refutation ; it is disproved
by the immediate tesHmon]^ of conscience and
common sense. Property is not an arbitrary
thin^, dependent wholly on man's will. It
has Its foundation and great laws in nature,
and these cannot be vidiated without crime.
It b plainly the intention of Providence that
certain thmgs should be owned—should be
held as property. They fulfil their end only
by such appropriation. The material world
was plainly mside to be subjected to human
labour, and its products to be moulded by
skill to human use. He who wins them by
honest toil has a right to them, and is
wronged when others seize and consume
them. The doeument supposes a govern-
ment to declare that opium is an article in
which property cannot exist or be asserted,
and on this grouud to wrest it from the owner
and throw it into the sea; and this it con-
siders a parallel case to the declaration that
property in man cannot exist. But who does
not see that the parallel is absurd? The
poppy, which contains the opium, is by its
nature fitted and designed to be held as
property. The man who rears it by his capital,
mdustry, and skill thus establishes a right
to it, and is injured if it be torn from biro,
except in the special case where some higher
right supersedes that of property. The poppy
is not wronged by being owned and consumed.
It has no mtelhgence, no conscience for iU
own direction, no destiny to fulfil by the wise
use and cultve of its powers. It has there-

fore no lights. By being appropriated to an
individual it does good, it suffers no wrong.

Here are the grounds of property. Tbey
are found in the nattire or the articles so
used ; and where these grounds are wholly
wanting, as in the case of human beings, it
cannot exist or be asserted. A man was made
to be an owner, not to be owned ; to acquire,
not to become property. He has faculties for
the government oc himself. He has a great
destiny. He stistahis tender and sacred re-
lations, especially those of parent and hus-
band, and with the duties and blessings of
these no one must interfere. As such a being,
he has rights. These belong to his very nature.
Their bdong to every one who pailakes it ;
all here are equal. He therefore may be
wronged, and is most grievously wiDnged,
when forcibly seieed by a fellow-creature, who
has no other nature and rights than his own.
and seieed by such an one to live for his
pleasure, to be bowed to his absolute will,
to be placed under his lash, to be sold, driven
from home, and torn from parent, wife, and
child, for another's gain. Does any parallel

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 158 of 169)