law passed by this legislature, “It is all Constitutional we admit; but we shall obey one half of it, and not the other.”
Suppose an individual should say so,--what should you think of it?
What results from these considerations?
Why, this results,--that nobody can obey that statute at the present moment, and no civil government does; and the government that should undertake to do it for one hour, would be hurled into oblivion the next, by the aroused indignation of the nineteenth century.
Constitute yourselves a government; make no distinction between manslaughter and murder; declare that the individual shall have the right to take the life of the person who kills his nearest relative; give the governor no right to pardon,--and see how long such a government would stand.
And yet I contend that no man who interprets that statute.
by the common rules of evidence and contemporary practice, can find any of the merciful provisions of modern government in it. I have shown you what that statute was, as practised for fifteen hundred years; and Moses
himself did not dare to say that the nearest of kin should not kill the man who had committed manslaughter.
He instituted “cities of refuge,” where the individual offender should be safe; but if he left the city, he was liable to be killed.
I contend, gentlemen, that in this issue between the parties, it is we who are upholding the Old Testament, not those who defend the gallows.
We say, God did not mean to prescribe a law for civil government in all time,--that was not his object; or, if he did, this was permissive merely, you may
take life, if you wish to.
This is my proposition, gentlemen: Grant
that to be a statute; if it is a statute, interpret it like any other statute; and when you have done that, then we will say