ratification, assailed the Constitution
as a measure of thorough, undisguised, all-absorbing consolidation, and, though himself a professed contemner of Slavery, sought to arouse the fears of the Virginia
slaveholders as follows:
Among ten thousand implied powers which they may assume, they may, if we be engaged in war, liberate every one of your slaves, if they please; and this must and will be done by men, a majority of whom have not a common interest with you. They will, therefore, have no feeling of your interests.
It has been repeatedly said hero, that the great object of a National Government was national defense.
That power, which is said to be intended for security and safety, may be rendered detestable and oppressive.
If they give power to the General Government to provide for the general defense, the means must be commensurate to the end. All the means in the possession of the people must be given to the Government which is intrusted with the public defense.
In this State, there are 236,000 Blacks; and there are many in several other States: but there are few or none in the Northern States; and yet, if the Northern States shall be of opinion that our slaves are numberless, they may call forth every national resource.
May Congress not say that every Black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this last war?
We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly passed, that every slave who would go to the army should be free.
Another thing will contribute to bring this event about: Slavery is detested; we feel its fatal effects we deplore it with all the pity of humanity.
Let all these considerations, at some future period, press with full force on the minds of Congress — let that urbanity, which I trust will distinguish America, and the necessity of national defense — let all these things operate on their minds: they will search that paper, and see if they have the power of manumission.
And have they not, Sir?
Have they not power to provide for the general defense and welfare?
May they not think that these call for the abolition of Slavery?
May they not pronounce all slaves free?
and will they not be warranted by that power?
There is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction.
The paper speaks to the point.
They have the power, in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it. As much as I deplore Slavery, I see that prudence forbids its abolition.
I deny that the General Government ought to set them free, because a decided majority of the States have not the ties of sympathy and fellow-feeling for those whose interest would be affected by their emancipation.
The majority of Congress is to the North, and the slaves are to the South.
Gov. Edmund Randolph
--who became Washington
--answered Mr. Henry
: denying most strenuously that there is any power of abolition given to Congress by the Constitution
; but not alluding to what Henry had urged with regard to the War
power and the right of Congress to summon every slave to the military defense of the country.
Nor does this view of the subject appear to have attracted much attention elsewhere — at least, it does not appear to have been anywhere controverted.1
In 1836,2 Mr. John Quincy Adams
, having been required to vote Yea or Nay, in the House
, on a proposition reported by Mr. H. L. Pinckney
, of South Carolina
, in these words--
Resolved, That Congress possesses no constitutional power to interfere in any way with the institution of Slavery in any of the States of this confederacy--
voted Nay, in company with but eight others; and, obtaining the floor in Committee soon afterward, on a proposition that rations be distributed from the public stores to citizens: of Georgia
who have been driven from their homes by Indian