free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.
It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted.
But the public history of every European nation displays it, in a manner too plain to be mistaken.
They had, for more than a century before, been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to Slavery for his benefit.
He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race.
It was regarded as an axiom in morals, as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men of every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.
And in no nation was this opinion more firmly fixed or more uniformly acted upon than by the English Government and English people.
They not only seized them on the coast of Africa, and sold them or held them in Slavery for their own use, but they took them as ordinary articles of merchandise to every country where they could make a profit on them, and were far more engaged in this commerce than any other nation in the world.
The opinion thus entertained and acted upon in England was naturally impressed upon the colonies they founded on this side of the Atlantic.
And, accordingly, a negro of the African race was regarded by them as an article of property, and held, and bought and sold as such, in every one of the thirteen colonies which united in the Declaration of Independence, and afterward formed the Constitution of the United States.
The slaves were more or less numerous in the different colonies, as slave labor was found more or less profitable.
But no one seems to have doubted the correctness of the prevailing opinion of the time.
The immortal language of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence
, wherein “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” are proclaimed the self-evident, inalienable rights of all
men, might well stagger the most brazen and subtle attorney, but not a case-hardened Chief Justice
He tosses them aside in this fashion:
The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family; and, if they were used in a similar instrument at this day, would be so understood.
But it is too clear to dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this Declaration; for, if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and, instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.
Yet the men who framed this declaration were great men — high in literary acquirements — high in their sense of honor — and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting.
They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not, in any part of the civilized world, be supposed to embrace the negro race; which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to Slavery.
They spoke and acted according to the then established doctrines and principles, and in the ordinary language of the day, and no one misunderstood them.
The unhappy black race were separated from the white by indelible marks, and laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken1 of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.
This state of public opinion had, undergone no change when the Constitution was adopted, as is equally evident from its provisions and language.
here deliberately asserts that “the unhappy black race”