city attended in a body, “lending,” says The Courier
of next morning, “their sanction to the proceedings, and adding, by their presence, to the impressive character of the scene.”
This meeting unanimously resolved that all the mail matter in question should be burnt, and it was
burnt accordingly — the mails being searched and rifled for the purpose; “although,” (says The Courier
), “arrangements had previously been made at the Post-office to arrest the circulation of incendiary matter, until instructions could be received from the Department at Washington
;” and “it might have been better, perhaps, to have awaited the answer before proceeding to extremities.”
But Mr. Amos Kendall
, then Postmaster-General
, was not the man to “hint a fault, or hesitate dislike,” with regard to such mail robbery, though obliged to confess that it was not strictly according to act of Congress.
“I am satisfied,” he replied to the Post-master's application, “that the Postmaster-General has no legal authority to exclude newspapers from the mail, nor to prohibit their carriage or delivery on account of their character or tendency, real or supposed.”
“But I am not prepared to direct you to forward or deliver the papers of which you speak.”
“By no act or direction of mine, official or private, could I be induced to aid, knowingly, in giving circulation to papers of this description, directly or indirectly.
We owe an obligation to the laws, but a higher one to the communities in which we live; and, if the former be permitted to destroy the latter, it is patriotism to disregard them.
Entertaining these views, I cannot sanction, and will not condemn, the step you have taken.
Your justification must be looked for in the character of the papers detained, and the circumstances by which you are surrounded.”
has been widely charged and credited with the authorship of the “higher law” doctrine; but here we find it clearly set forth in a grave Democratic State paper, fifteen years before he uttered it. And it is yet far older than this.
's recommendation of repression by law of the circulation of “incendiary” matter through the mails, was referred by the Senate to a Select Committee, whereof John C. Calhoun
The perilous scope
of any such legislation was at once clear to the keen intellect of that statesman, who had by this time learned to dread “Consolidation” as intensely as he detested “Abolition.”
He reported (February 4, 1836), that the measure proposed by the President
would violate the Constitution
, and imperil public liberty.
Nothing is more clear, “says the Report,” than that the admission of the right of Congress to determine what papers are incendiary, and, as such, to prohibit their circulation through the mail, necessarily involves the right to determine what are not incendiary, and enforce their circulation. * * * If Congress may this year decide what incendiary publications are, they may, next year, decide what they are not, and thus laden their mails with real or covert abolitionism. * * * It belongs to the States, and not to Congress, to determine what is or is not calculated to disturb their security.
He proposed, therefore, that each State
should determine for itself what kind of reading it would deem “incendiary,” and that Congress should thereupon prohibit the transmission by mail of such matter to that State
. He concluded with a bill, which contained this provision:
Be it enacted, etc., That it shall not be lawful for any deputy postmaster, in any State, Territory, or District, of the United States, knowingly, to deliver to any person whatsoever, any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or other printed paper or pictorial representation, touching the subject of Slavery, where, by the laws of the said State, Territory, or District, their circulation is