wrong; but in so far as they admit that the system may be right under given circumstances, or that slaves may be held under it without guilt, we agree.
I stand, therefore, committed to the affirmative of the question, both in regard to the principle and to the institution, and hence proceed to discuss the question:
I. Is the abstract principle of domestic slavery right or wrong?
I have already noticed that the public mind has been so long abused on this subject, that it is usual for highly intelligent persons, who have no idea of affirming that the slaveholder is necessarily a sinner, to allow that slaveholding is wrong in principle
. But this, to say the least, is a strange abuse of terms.
The right or wrong of an action, in itself considered, is determined by the principle
which it envelops, and the moral character of the actor
is determined by his intention in the performance, or by his voluntary or involuntary ignorance of the principle.
It is reasonable, therefore, to infer that the public attach no well-defined meaning to the phrase, the abstract principle of slavery
. Its definite meaning, however, is indispensable in this investigation; and, indeed, on all occasions, if we would speak correctly, and avoid misapplication of this term.