Page images
PDF
EPUB

States, it will be but another exercise of that power to declare that all shall be free."

Again, in a letter to General Lafayette, dated November 4th, 1823, he uses the following striking language:

On the eclipse of federalism with us, although not its extinction, its leaders got up the Missouri question, under the false front of lessening the measure of slavery, but with the real view of producing a geographical division of parties, which might insure them the next President. The people of the North went blindfold into the snare, followed their leaders for a while with a zeal truly moral and laudable, until they became sensible that they were injuring instead of aiding the real interests of the slaves; that they had been used merely as tools for electioneering purposes; and that trick of hypocrisy then fell as quickly as it had been got

up."

General (afterwards President) Harrison to President

Monroe.Extract of a Letter dated North Bend, June 16, 1823.

“In relation to the Missouri question, I am, and have been for many years, so much opposed to slavery, that I will never live in a State where it exists. But I believe that the Constitution has given no power to the General Government to interfere in this matter, and that to have slaves or no slaves, depends upon the will of the people in each State alone.

“Besides the constitutional objection, I am persuaded that the obvious tendency of such interferences on the part of the States which have no slaves with the property of their fellow citizens of the others, is to produce a state of discord and jealousy that will, in the end, prove fatal to the Union. I believe in no other State are such wild and dangerous sentiments entertained on this subject as in Ohio, and I claim the merit of being the only person of any political standing in the State who publicly oppose them."

CHAPTER IX.

FUGITIVE SLAVES-ORDINANCE OF 1787—THE CONSTITU.

TION-ACT OF 1793.

(From Benton's Thirty Years.) It is of record proof that the anti-slavery clause in the Ordinance of 1787, could not be passed until the fugitive slave recovery clause was added to it. That anti-slavery clause, first prepared in the Congress of the Confederation by Mr. Jefferson, in 1784, was rejected, and remained rejected for three years, until 1787; when, receiving the additional clause for the recovery of fugitives, it was unanimously passed. This is clear proof that the first clause, that prohibiting slavery in the Northwest Territory, could not be obtained without the second, authorizing the recovery of slaves who should take refuge in that territory. It was a compromise between the slave States and the free States, unanimously agreed upon by both parties, and founded on a valuable consideration, one preventing the spread of slavery over a vast extent of country, the other retaining the right of property in the slaves which might flee to it. Simultaneously with the adoption of this article in the Ordinances, in 1787, was the formation of the Constitution of the United States, both formed at the same time in neighboring cities, and (it may be said) by the same

The Congress sat in New York, the Federal Convention in Philadelphia; and while the most active members of both were members of each, as Madison and Hamilton, yet, by constant interchange of opinion, the members of both bodies may be assumed to have worked together for a common object. The right to recover fugitive slaves went into the Constitution as it went into the Ordinance, simultaneously and unanimously; and it may be assumed upon the facts of the case, and all the evidence of the day, that the Constitution, no more than the Ordinance, could have been formed without the fugitive slave recovery clause contained in it. A right to recover slaves is not only authorized in the Constitution, but it is a right without which there would have been no Constitution, and also no anti-slavery Ordinance.

One of the early acts of Congress, as early as February, 1793, was a statute to carry into effect the clause in the Constitution for the reclamation of fugitives from justice and fugitives from labor; and that statute made by the men who made the Constitution, as interpreted by men who had a right to know its meaning. That act consisted of four sections, all brief and clear, and the first two applied exclusively to fugitives from justice. The third and fourth applied to fugitives from labor, embracing apprentices as well as slaves, and applying the same rights and remedies in each case : and of these two, the third alone contains the whole provisions for reclaiming the fugitive-the fourth merely containing penalties for the obstruction of that right. The third section, then, is the only one essential to the object of this chapter, and is in these words:

That when a person held to labor in any of the United States, or in either of the territories on the northwest or south of Ohio, under the laws thereof, shall escape into any other of said States or territories, the person to whom such labor is due, his agent or attorney, is hereby empowered to seize or arrest such fugitive from labor, and to take him or her before any judge of the circuit or district courts of the United States, residing or being within the State, or before any magistrate of a county, city, or town corporate, wherein such seizure or arrest shall be made, and upon proof to the satisfaction of snch judge or magistrate, either by oral testimony, or by affidavit taken before and certified by : magistrate, of any such State or territory, that the person 80 seized and arrested, doth, under the laws of the State or territory from which he or she fled, owe service to the persons claiming him or her, it shall be the duty of such judge or magistrate to give a certificate thereof to such claimant, his agent or attorney, which shall be sufficient warrant for removing the said fugitive from labor to the State or territory from which he or she ied.”

This act was passed on the recommendation of President Washington in consequence of a case having arisen between Pennylvania and Virginia, which showed the want of an act of Congress to carry the clause in the Constitution into effect. It may be held to be a fair interpretation of the Constitution, and by it the party claiming the service of the fagitive in any State or territory had the right to seize his slave whenever he saw him, and to carry him before a judicial authority in the State ; and upon affidavit or oral testimony, showing his right, he was to receive a certificate to that effect, by virtue of which he might carry him back to the State from which he had fled. This act, fully recognizing the right of the claimant to seize his slave by mere virtue of ownership, and then to carry him out of the State upon & certificate and without a trial, was passed as good as unanimously by the second Congress which sat under the Constitution—the proceedings of the Senate showing no division, and in the House only seven voting against the bill, there being no separate votes on the two parts of it, and two of these seven from the slave States (Virginia and Maryland). It does not appear to what these seven objected-whether to the fugitive slave sections, or those which applied to fugitives from justice. Such unanimity in its passage by those who helped to make the Constitution was high evidence in its favor; the conduct of the States, and both judiciaries, State and federal, were to the same effect. The act was continually enforced, and the courts decided that this right of the owner to seize his slave was just as large in the free State to which he had fled as in the slave State from which he had run awaythat he might seize, by night as well as by day, on Sunday as well as other days, and also in a house, provided no breach of the peace was committed. The penal section in the bill was clear and heavy, and went upon the ground of the absolute right of the master to seize his slave by his own authority wherever he saw him, and the criminality of any obstruction or resistance in the exercise of that right. It was in these words :

“That any person who shall knowingly and wilfully obstruct or binder such claimant, his agent or attorney, in bo seizing or arresting such fugitive from labor, or shall rescue such fugitive from such claimant, his agent or attorney, when so arrested pursuant to the authority herein given or declared ; or shall harbor, or conceal such persons after notice that he or she was

a fugitive from labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of the said offenses, forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars, which penalty may be recovered by and for the benefit of such claimant, by action of debt in any court proper to try the same, saving, moreover, to the person claiming such labor or service his right of action for or on account of the said injuries, or either of them."

State officers, the magistrates and judges, though not bound to act under the law of Congress, yet did so; and State jails, though not obligatory under a federal law, were freely used for the recaptured fugitives. This continued till a late day in most of the free States—in all of them nntil after the Congress of the United States engaged in the slavery agitation-and in the great State of Pennsylvania until the 20th March, 1847; this is to say, until a month after Mr. Calhoun brought into the Senate the

« PreviousContinue »