In the South
, where every adult white male was accustomed to join instinctively and eagerly in the hunt for a fugitive slave, precisely as though he were some domestic animal that had escaped from his owner's inclosure, and taken to the highway or the woods, such language might have been used with consistency: In the North
, it was otherwise; and for this reason: The essence of obedience to law is the acceptance of the obligation, not in its letter merely, but in its spirit.
In other words, he only can render fill, effective obedience to a law who recognizes in such obedience the fulfillment of an intrinsic
obligation — of a Divine requirement.
Let us suppose, now, that Mr. Webster
, while riding on one of the highways near Boston
, or near Washington
, had encountered a black mother with a child in her arms, fleeing on foot, with all possible speed, and had seen in the distance three or four white men, mounted and armed, fiercely pursuing.
He would, of course, have comprehended at once that the woman and child were presumptively fugitive slaves, and that the pursuers were her master, or his agent, with assistants, in quest of her. But would he have thereupon attempted, “with alacrity,” to stop the fleeing woman, and forcibly detain her, until they should overtake and seize her?
Nay, if he had seen her, while in a hollow out of their sight, make a dexterous plunge into a wood, so as to throw them completely off her track, would he have ridden to tell them where she had left the road, and how they must vary their course to catch her?
It would be a libel on his memory to suppose him capable of any such baseness.1
He might have refrained from giving the woman a hint, by nodding or finger-pointing, as to the proper place at which to leave the road; he probably would have refrained from misleading her pursuers, by wink or sign, as to the course she had actually taken; but he would have rendered them no positive aid. His soul would have instinctively revolted from becoming a volunteer personal accomplice of the woman-hunters.
Yet to refuse this was to withhold a genuine and hearty obedience to the vaunted constitutional obligation, that fugitives from Slavery “shall be delivered up on claim” of their masters.
It was to repudiate in acts what he so stoutly affirmed in words.
It was to “keep the word of promise to the ear, but break it to the hope.”
And hence — for this discrepancy was general and obvious — the yard-stick clamor throughout the North
for a vigorous and thorough execution of the Fugitive Slave
law was calculated rather to disgust than conciliate the Slave Power
, every day quietly inclining more and more to the desperate expedient of Disunion.
It widened and deepened the Southern
impression that the North
was, at heart, thoroughly anti-Slavery, but would profess or do anything base in its own eyes for the sake of securing the immense pecuniary advantages derived by it from the Union
The National Conventions of the