The soul sickens in the contemplation of this legalized outrage. In the dreary annals of the past there are many acts of shame; there are ordinances of monarchs and laws which have become a byword and a hissing to the nations. But when we consider the country and the age, I ask fearlessly what act of shame, what ordinance of monarch, what law, can compare in atrocity with this enactment of an American Congress? I do not forget Appius Claudius, tyrant Decemvir of ancient Rome, condemning Virginia as a slave; nor Louis XIV. of France letting slip the dogs of religious persecution by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; nor Charles I. of England arousing the patriot rage of hampden by the extortion of ship-money; nor the British Parliament provoking in our own country spirits kindred to Hampden by the tyranny of the Stamp Act and Tea Tax. I would not exaggerate; I wish to keep within bounds; but I think there can be little doubt that the condemnation now affixed to all these transactions and to their authors must be the lot hereafter of the Fugitive Slave bill, and of every one, according to the measure of his influence, who gave it his support. Into the immortal catalogue of national crimes it has now passed, drawing, by inexorable necessity, its authors also, and chiefly him who, as President of the United States, set his name to the bill, and breated into it that final breath without which it would bear no life. Other Presidents may be forgotten; but the name signed to the Fugitive Slave bill can never be forgotten. There are depths of infamy as there are heights of fame. I regret to say what I must, but truth compels me. Better for him had he never been born! Better for his memory, and for the good name of his children, had he never been President! . . . And here, sir, let me say that it becomes me to speak with caution. It happens that I sustain an important relation to this bill. Early in professional life I was designated by the late Judge Story a commissioner of his court, and, though I do not very often exercise the functions of this appointment, my name is still upon the list. As such I am one of those before whom the panting fugitive may be dragged for the decision of the question whether he is a freeman or a slave. But while it becomes me to speak with caution, I shall not hesitate to speak with plainness. I cannot forget that I am a man, although I am a commissioner. . . . It rests with you, my fellow-citizens, by word and example, by calm determinations and devoted lives, to do this work. From a humane, just, and religious people will spring a public opinion to keep perpetual guard over the liberties of all within our borders. Nay, more, like the flaming sword of the cherubim at the gates of Paradise, turning on every side, it shall prevent any slave-hunter from ever setting foot in this Commonwealth. Elsewhere he
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