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[198] were to be sold, they might get a better—they might get a worse—master than Milligan. They are disposable property; and he who bought them to make money, would assuredly sell them for the same reason, whenever an opportunity presented itself. To say that they were not intended for public sale, is a contemptible quibble. Of this I was aware: that they were slaves—the creatures of an absolute despotism; that they were human beings, entitled to all the privileges and enjoyments of liberty; and that no man could assist in their oppression without participating in the guilt of the purchase. I must ever regret that New England men were engaged in the inhuman traffic, but not that I promptly exposed them to public censure. . . .

The decision of the Court upon my trial forms the paradox of paradoxes. The law says that the domestic slave trade is a legal business, and no more criminal than the most innocent mechanical or commercial pursuit; and, therefore, that any man may honestly engage in it. Yet, if I charge an individual with following it, either occasionally or regularly, I am guilty of “a gross and malicious libel” —of “defaming his good name, fame and reputation” —of “foul calumny and base innuendo” —with sundry other law phrases, as set forth in an indictment! So much for the consistency of the law! So much for the equity of the Court! The trial, in fact, was not to ascertain whether my charges were true, but whether they contained anything disreputable to the character of the accused; and the verdict does not implicate or condemn me, but the law.

The hat-making business, for instance, is an authorized trade. Suppose I were to accuse a man of making hats, and should believe, and publicly declare as my opinion, that every hat-maker ought be imprisoned for life: would this be libellous? It is my belief, that every distiller or vender of ardent spirits is a poisoner of the health and morals of community; but have I not a right to express this belief without subjection to fine and imprisonment? I believe, moreover, that every man who kills another, either in a duel or battle, is, in the eye of God, guilty of his blood; but is it criminal or punishable to cherish or avow such an opinion? What is freedom of thought, or freedom of expression? It is my right—and no body of men can legally deprive me of it—to interrogate the moral aspect and public utility of every pursuit or traffic. True, my views may be ridiculous or fanatical; but they may also be just and benevolent. Free inquiry is the essence, the life-blood of liberty;

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