of the Constitution; that it was introduced tardily and with hesitation, and adopted with little discussion, while then and for a long period thereafter it was regarded with comparative indifference; that the recent Slave Act, though many times unconstitutional, is especially so on two grounds,—first, as a usurpation by Congress of powers not granted by the Constitution, and an infraction of rights secured to the States; and, secondly, as the denial of trial by jury, in a question of personal liberty and a suit at common law; that its glaring unconstitutionality finds a prototype in the British Stamp Act, which our fathers refused to obey as unconstitutional on two parallel grounds,—first, because it was a usurpation by Parliament of powers not belonging to it under the British Constitution, and an infraction of rights belonging to the Colonies; and, secondly, because it was the denial of trial by jury in certain cases of property; that as liberty is far above property, so is the outrage perpetrated by the American Congress far above that perpetrated by the British Parliament; and, finally, that the Slave Act has not that support in the public sentiment of the States where it is to be executed, which is the life of all law, and which prudence and the precept of Washington require.
Further on he said of the duty of obedience to the Act:—
The Slave Act violates the Constitution and shocks the public conscience.
With modesty, and yet with firmness, let me add, sir, it offends against the divine law. No such enactment is entitled to support.
As the throne of God is above every earthly throne, so are his laws and statutes above all the laws and statutes of man. To question these is to question God himself. . . . The good citizen who sees before him the shivering fugitive, guilty of no crime, pursued, hunted down like a beast, while praying for Christian help and deliverance, and then reads the requirements of this Act, is filled with horror.
Here is a despotic mandate “to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law.”
Again let me speak frankly.
Not rashly would I set myself against any requirement of law. This grave responsibility I would not lightly assume.
But here the path of duty is clear.
By the supreme law which commands me to do no injustice, by the comprehensive Christian law of brotherhood, by the Constitution which I have sworn to support, I an bound to disobey this Act. Never, in any capacity, can I render voluntary aid in its execution.
Pains and penalties I will endure, but this great wrong I will not do. “Where I cannot obey actively, there I am willing to lie down and to suffer what they shall do unto me,” —such was the exclamation of him to whom we are indebted for the Pilgrim's progress while in prison for disobedience to an earthly statute.
Better suffer injustice than do it; better victim than instrument of wrong; better even the poor slave returned to bondage than the wretched commissioner.
This was his conclusion:—
Finally, sir, for the sake of peace and tranquillity, cease to shock the public conscience; for the sake of the Constitution, cease to exercise a power nowhere granted, and which violates inviolable rights expressly secured.
Leave this question where it was left by our fathers at the formation of our national government,—in the absolute control of the States, the appointed guardians of