some of its cardinal provisions provoked strenuous opposition.
The new Fugitive Slave Law proved especially obnoxious, both in principle and practice, to a large and earnest minority.
It had been originally drafted by Senator Mason
, of Virginia
--a man conspicuously charged with that pro-Slavery venom which has since made him a leading Rebel--and who had already signalized himself by his efforts to render the maintenance of the Union
impossible on any other terms than those of the most utter and abject devotion, on the part of the North
, to the most extreme Pro-Slavery aspirations and policy of the South
He opposed, as we have seen, Mr. Clay
's programme of compromise, as entirely too favorable to the North
; he had been among the foremost of the Southern
ultras in defeating that programme in its primitive shape; and he had stubbornly resisted the admission of California
as a Free State, unless and until paid for by concessions on the part of the North
Yet his draft of a Fugitive Slave Law was adopted by the great Compromise Committee, and ultimately rushed through the two Houses with little consideration and less scrutiny.
When it was reached in its order in the lower, Judge James Thompson1
obtained the floor2
--doubtless by prearrangement with Speaker Cobb
--and spoke in favor of the measure as just and necessary, closing his remarks by a demand of the Previous Question
This was sustained by a majority; and the bill — with all its imperfections on its head, and without affording any opportunity for amendment — was ordered to a third reading by 109 Yeas to 75 Nays — every member from a Slave State who voted at all, voting Yea, with 28 Democrats and 33
Whigs from Free States.
From the Free States
33, from the Slave States
15 members were absent, or withheld their votes; and, as the vote in the Senate stood 27 for to 12 against it, with 21 absent, it is note-worthy that it passed either House
by the votes of a decided minority of the members thereof.
Still, it is hardly probable that, had every member been present and voted, it would have been defeated.
This measure, so inconsiderately adopted, was specially objectionable to the humaner instincts of the Free States
in these particulars:
1. It directed and provided for the surrender to the claimant of each alleged fugitive from Slavery without allowing such alleged fugitive a trial by jury; though the Federal Constitution4
expressly provides that
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved:
So that, while any person, of whom damages are claimed to the amount of twenty dollars, is entitled to a trial of the issue by jury, he whose liberty, or whose wife and children, are in jeopardy, is especially denied that right by this act. He may be entirely and unimpeachably white — for this act knows nothing of color; he may be the Governor
of a State, the Bishop
of a great Church; he may be General-in-Chief
of the armies of the Union
, engaged in a momentous war; but, if any one chooses