opened his speech with the words, ‘Watchman, what of the night?
And well may the question be asked,’ he said,
for things have occurred, and measures have passed into laws, which fill the day itself into blackness.
And yet, there are streaks of light —an unwonted dawn—in the distant west, out of which a full-orbed sun is beginning to ascend, rejoicing, like a strong man, to run his race.
California had been admitted to the Union with a Constitution forbidding slavery.
A hateful institution which thus far, without check, had travelled with the power of the Republic westward, was bidden to stop, and a new and rising State guarded from its contamination.
Freedom—in whose hands is the divining rod of magical power, pointing the way not only to wealth untold, but to every possession of virtue and intelligence—whose presence is better far than any mine—is now at last established in an extensive region on the distant Pacific, between the very parallels of latitude so long claimed by slavery as its peculiar home.
Here is a moral and political victory: a moral victory inasmuch as Freedom has secured a new foothold where to exert her far-reaching influence; a political victory also, inasmuch as, by the admission of California, the free States have obtained a majority of votes in the Senate, and the Balance of power between Freedom and Slavery—so preposterously claimed by the Slave States, in forgetfulness of the true spirit of the Constitution, and in mockery of human Rights—has been overturned.
May Free California, and her Senators in Congress, never fail hereafter, amidst the trials before us, in loyalty to Freedom!
God forbid that the daughter should turn with ingratitude or neglect from the mother that bore her.
Congress had also abolished the slave-trade in the District of Columbia, and banished from the national Capital the odious traffic, thus affixing upon the trade in human flesh everywhere in the broad domain of the Republic
, the brand of Congressional reprobation.
True, Congress had not, as in the case of the Foreign Slave-Trade
, stamped it as piracy
, and awarded to its perpetrators the doom of pirates; but it had condemned the
trade, and gave to general scorn those who partook of it; thus preparing the way for that complete act of Abolition which was necessary to purge the National Capital
of its still remaining curse and shame.
It had also abolished flogging in the Navy, thus rebuking the lash wherever and by whomsoever employed.
These two props and stays of slavery had been undermined by Congressional legislation.
Without the slave-trade and the lash, slavery itself must fall to the earth.
But other measures had passed, which the speaker contemplated only with indignation and disgust.
The broad territories of New Mexico
, under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress, had been organized without any prohibition of slavery.
In laying the foundations there, Congress had omitted the great Ordinances of Freedom, first suggested by Jefferson
, and consecrated by the experience of the Northwestern Territory
Moreover, a vast territory, larger than all New England
, had been taken from New Mexico
, and ten million dollars had been given to slave-holding Texas
And still further, as if to do a deed which should ‘make heaven weep, all earth amazed,’ this same Congress, in disregard of all the cherished safeguards of Freedom, has passed a most cruel, unchristian, devilish law to secure the return into Slavery of those fortunate bondmen who have found shelter by our firesides.
This is the Fugitive Slave Bill—a bill which despoils the party claimed as a slave—whether he be in reality a slave or a freeman—of the sacred right of Trial by Jury, and commits the question of Human Freedom—the highest question known by the law—to the unaided judgment of a single magistrate, on ex parte evidence it may be, by affidavits, without the sanction of crossexami-nation.
And yet there are streaks of light—an unwonted dawn—in the distant West, out of which a full-orbed sun is beginning to ascend, rejoicing like a strong man to run his race.
Video solem orientem in occidente. By an Act of the recent Congress, California, with a Constitution
forbidding Slavery, adopted in the exercise of its sovereignty as a State, has been admitted into the Union.
For a measure like this, required not only by the simplest justice, but by the uniform practice of the country, and the constitutional principles of the slave-holders themselves, we may well be ashamed to confess our gratitude; and yet I cannot but rejoice in this great good accomplished.
A hateful institution, which thus far, without check, had travelled with the power of the Republic, westward, is bidden to stop, and a new and rising State guarded from its contamination.
Freedom—in whose hands is the divining rod of magical power, pointing the way, not only to wealth untold, but to every possession of virtue and intelligence—whose presence is better far than any mine of gold—is now at last established in an extensive region on the distant Pacific, between the very parallels of latitude so long claimed by Slavery as its peculiar home.
Here is a moral and political victory; a moral victory, inasmuch as Freedom has secured a new foothold where to exert her far-reaching influence; a political victory also, inasmuch as by the admission of California, the Free States have obtained a majority of votes in the Senate, and the balance of power, between Freedom and Slavery—so preposterously claimed by the Slave States, in forgetfulness of the true spirit of the Constitution, and in mockery of Human Rights—has been overturned.
May free California, and her Senators in Congress, never fail hereafter, amidst the trials before us, in loyalty to Freedom!
God forbid that the daughter should turn with ingratitude or neglect from the mother that bore her!
Besides this Act, there are two others of this long session which may be regarded with satisfaction, and which I mention at once, before considering the reverse of the picture.
The Slave trade has been abolished in the District of Columbia.
This measure, though small in the sight of Justice, is most important.
It banishes from the National Capital an odious traffic.
But this is its least office.
It practically affixes to the whole traffic, wherever it exists—not merely in Washington, within the immediate sphere of the legislative act-but everywhere throughout the Slave States, whether at Richmond, or Charleston, or New Orleans, the brand of Congressional reprobation.
Yes! The people of the United States, by the voice of Congress, have solemnly declared the domestic traffic in slaves to be offensive in their sight.
The nation has judged this traffic.
The nation has said to it, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’
It is true that Congress has not, as in the case of the foreign slave trade, stamped it as piracy, and awarded to its perpetrators the
doom of pirates; but it condemns the trade, and gives to general scorn those who partake of it. To this extent the North may be swept into ruthless captivity; and there is no white citizen, born among us, bred in our schools, partaking in our affairs, voting in our elections, whose liberty is not assailed also.
Without any discrimination of color, the Bill surrenders all, who may be claimed as ‘owing service or labor,’ to the same tyrannical judgment.
And mark once more its heathenism.
By unrelenting provisions it visits, with bitter penalties of fine and imprisonment, the faithful men and women who may render to the fugitive that countenance, succor, and shelter which Christianity expressly requires!
Thus, from beginning to end, it sets at naught the best principles of the Constitution, and the very laws of God!
I might occupy your time by exposing the unconstitutionality of this act. In denying the Trial by Jury, it is three times unconstitutional: first, as the Constitution declares ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons against unreasonable seizures;’ secondly, as it further declares, that ‘No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law;’ and, thirdly, because it expressly declares, that ‘In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.’
By this triple cord did the framers of the Constitution secure the Trial by Jury in every question of Human Freedom.
That man can be little imbued with the true spirit of American institutions—he can have little sympathy with Bills of Rights—he must be lukewarm for Freedom, who can hesitate to construe the Constitution so as to secure this safeguard.