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Xvi. The era of Slave-hunting.

but, whatever theoretic or practical objections may be justly made to the Compromise of 1850, there can be no doubt that it was accepted and ratified by a great majority of the American People, whether in the North or in the South. They were intent on business — then remarkably prosperous — on planting, building, trading, and getting gain — and they hailed with general joy the announcement that all the differences between the diverse ‘sections’ had been adjusted and settled. The terms of settlement were, to that majority, of quite subordinate consequence; they wanted peace and prosperity, and were nowise inclined to cut each other's throats and burn each other's houses in a quarrel concerning (as they regarded it) only the [211] status of negroes. The Compromise had taken no money from their pockets; it had imposed upon them no pecuniary burdens; it had exposed them to no personal and palpable dangers: it had rather repelled the gaunt specter of Civil War and Disunion (habitually conjured up when Slavery had a point to carry), and increased the facilities for making money, while opening a boundless vista of National greatness, security, and internal harmony. Especially by the trading class, and the great majority of the dwellers in seaboard cities, was this view cherished with intense, intolerant vehemence.

The Compromise had been violently opposed alike from the South and from the North--of course, on opposite grounds. The “Fire-Eaters,” or disciples of Mr. Calhoun, regarded it as surrendering the substance of all that was in dispute — the newly acquired territories — to the North, while amusing the South with a mere shadow of triumph in the waiver of any positive, peremptory exclusion of Slavery therefrom. They resolved not to submit to it, but to rouse their section at first to theoretical, ultimately to forcible, resistance. To this end, a direct issue was made against the Compromise in Mississippi--next to South Carolina, the most intensely Pro-Slavery State in the Union--by nominating a “State rights” ticket, headed by Jefferson Davis for Governor--Mr. Davis having opposed the Compromise in the Senate with determined pertinacity. His adversaries accepted the challenge, and nominated a “Union” ticket in opposition, headed by Henry S. Foote for Governor--Mr. Foote, as Mr. Davis's colleague, though he demurred to Mr. Clay's programme at the outset, having supported the Compromise to the extent of his ability. The election occurred early in November, 1851; when the “Union” party won a complete triumph — the vote being the largest ever yet polled, and Mr. Foote elected by over 1,0001 majority. The rest of the “Union” State ticket, with a strongly “Union” Legislature, succeeded by still larger majorities. Alabama, likewise, chose a “Union” Legislature, and a “Union” majority of Congressmen. Louisiana, this year, elected a “Whig” Auditor and Legislature — meaning much the same thing. And even South Carolina--having been summoned by her chieftains (Mr. Calhoun being now dead) to elect a Convention, whereby her course in the exigency should be determined — gave a “Cooperation” majority of over 7,000 on the popular2 vote, electing 114 “Cooperationists” to 54 unqualified “Secessionists.” In other words, she voted not to attempt Secession without the concurrence and support of her Southern sisters — this being the shape wherein she could, with least sacrifice of pride or consistency, indicate her disposition not to rush madly upon the perils of Disunion and Civil War. Thus the triumph of the Compromise in the Slave States was complete; for it was felt to be preposterous to make the issue in any other States if it could not be upheld in these.

In the North, likewise, the acquiescence in the Compromise was general and decisive; though here, too, [212] some of its cardinal provisions provoked strenuous opposition. The new Fugitive Slave Law proved especially obnoxious, both in principle and practice, to a large and earnest minority. It had been originally drafted by Senator Mason, of Virginia--a man conspicuously charged with that pro-Slavery venom which has since made him a leading Rebel--and who had already signalized himself by his efforts to render the maintenance of the Union impossible on any other terms than those of the most utter and abject devotion, on the part of the North, to the most extreme Pro-Slavery aspirations and policy of the South. He opposed, as we have seen, Mr. Clay's programme of compromise, as entirely too favorable to the North; he had been among the foremost of the Southern ultras in defeating that programme in its primitive shape; and he had stubbornly resisted the admission of California as a Free State, unless and until paid for by concessions on the part of the North. Yet his draft of a Fugitive Slave Law was adopted by the great Compromise Committee, and ultimately rushed through the two Houses with little consideration and less scrutiny. When it was reached in its order in the lower, Judge James Thompson3 obtained the floor4--doubtless by prearrangement with Speaker Cobb--and spoke in favor of the measure as just and necessary, closing his remarks by a demand of the Previous Question. This was sustained by a majority; and the bill — with all its imperfections on its head, and without affording any opportunity for amendment — was ordered to a third reading by 109 Yeas to 75 Nays — every member from a Slave State who voted at all, voting Yea, with 28 Democrats and 35 Whigs from Free States. From the Free States 33, from the Slave States 15 members were absent, or withheld their votes; and, as the vote in the Senate stood 27 for to 12 against it, with 21 absent, it is note-worthy that it passed either House by the votes of a decided minority of the members thereof. Still, it is hardly probable that, had every member been present and voted, it would have been defeated.

This measure, so inconsiderately adopted, was specially objectionable to the humaner instincts of the Free States in these particulars:

1. It directed and provided for the surrender to the claimant of each alleged fugitive from Slavery without allowing such alleged fugitive a trial by jury; though the Federal Constitution6 expressly provides that

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved:

So that, while any person, of whom damages are claimed to the amount of twenty dollars, is entitled to a trial of the issue by jury, he whose liberty, or whose wife and children, are in jeopardy, is especially denied that right by this act. He may be entirely and unimpeachably white — for this act knows nothing of color; he may be the Governor of a State, the Bishop of a great Church; he may be General-in-Chief of the armies of the Union, engaged in a momentous war; but, if any one chooses [213] to swear that he is a slave who has escaped from his owner's service, he cannot require a trial by jury of the issue so raised, although the judge or commissioner before whom the claimant sees fit to bring him may be in league with that claimant to get him out of the protection of the law and into the power of his deadly enemies. And it is specially provided by this act7 that

In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence.

2. It did not even allow him a hearing before a judge; but authorized the captor to take him at once before any commissioner appointed to take depositions, etc., by a Judge of the Federal Courts, who was clothed by this act with plenary power in the premises; on whose rendition and certificate he might be hurried off at once into Slavery, without stay or appeal.

3. Said commissioner was to receive $10 for his services in case he directed the surrender of the alleged fugitive, but only $5 in case he, for any cause, decided against the claimant. The act thus, in effect, offered him a bribe to decide against the person charged with owing “service or labor.” 8

4. The persons charged with the duty of arresting the alleged fugitives were, in every instance, authorized and empowered by the act to “summon and call to their aid the bystanders, or posse comitatus of the proper county,” to aid them in their work; “and all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law.”

Mr. John Van Buren, in a letter9 to a Massachusetts Convention of opponents of this law, while admitting the right to reclaim and the duty of surrendering fugitives from Slavery, condemned the enactment in all its more important features: first, as an assumption by Congress of a duty properly devolving on the States,10 and to be rightfully executed by State laws, tribunals, and functionaries. The demurrer that the Supreme Court had decided11 adversely to this position was met by Mr. Van Buren as follows:

By this decision, judges in determining the question of authority would probably be concluded. But, in a popular discussion of the propriety of a law, with a view to its repeal or modification, I suppose we are at liberty to believe in opposition to a decision of the Supreme Court. Even the executive and legislative departments deny its authority to bind them. The Supreme Court decided that the Alien and Sedition Law was constitutional, and Matthew Lyon was imprisoned under it. The President, Mr. Jefferson, decided that it was not, and pardoned Mr. Lyon. The Supreme Court decided that Congress could constitutionally charter a Bank of the United States, and that the propriety and necessity of doing so were to be judged by Congress. The President, Gen. Jackson, decided that such an act was unconstitutional, and vetoed it. With these examples before me, I feel authorized to express the opinion which I entertain, that the Fugitive Slave Act is unconstitutional, because Congress has no power to legislate upon the subject.

With regard to the denial by this act of all semblance of a jury trial to persons claimed under it as fugitive slaves, Mr. Van Buren was equally [214] decided and forcible, as is evinced by these further extracts from his letter:

But, to those who regard the decision of the Supreme Court as conclusive, it is important to consider other objections to the act. Conceding the power of Congress to legislate upon this subject, I think the act in question is unconstitutional, because it does not give the person seized a trial by jury at the place where he is so seized, and before he is put in the custody of the claimant, with a warrant to transport him. * * *

In my judgment, the claim of service secured by the Constitution, if it requires a law to enforce it, and if Congress can pass such a law, can only be provided for by an act which secures the trial of a question in a regular suit before a jury. The seventh amendment to the Constitution provides that, “in suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved,” etc. This amendment, as well as the fifth, which declares that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” grew out of the opposition manifested to the adoption of the Constitution, because it did not, in terms, provide for the trial by jury in civil cases. It is needless to remind an American of the anxiety with which this institution has been watched. It is well described by Mr. Justice Story, in the case of Parsons vs. Bedford, 3 Peters, 446. Justice Story also explains what is meant by “a suit at common law,” in the section quoted. It covers all suits except those of equity, admiralty, or maritime jurisdiction; and the Judiciary Act of 1789 (chapter 20, sections 9, 12, and 13), carries this construction into practical operation. It will hardly be claimed that Congress can take a case which entitles a party to a jury, and deprive him of a jury by converting it into a summary proceeding, or that they can, in the same way, deprive him of his liberty or property without due process of law. If they could do this, the trial by jury and the due process of law secured by the Constitution become a mockery. Treating this as a mere question of property exceeding twenty dollars in value, entertain no doubt that it is a case where a jury trial is secured by the Constitution.

It may be said that a person seized can try the question of his right to freedom by a jury at the place whence he fled. This is a consolation, to be sure, to a man whose freedom has been destroyed by seizure and transportation from his home; and, if he could get his witnesses to the place where the claimant concludes to take him, he could have a trial. But the act in question provides no jury trial anywhere; there is no obligation on the claimant to take the person he seizes to any particular place; and if I have a right to try the question of title to property I hold at the place where the property is, and where the demand is made, how can it be argued that I have no such right when the demand made is for my thews and sinews?

It is urged that juries would not render verdicts in favor of claimants, where the right was established. This does not correspond with my observation of jury trials. On the contrary, whatever prejudice jurors may feel against the law, I have hardly ever known them to fail in obeying the directions of the Court upon a point of law.

It is also suggested, that the expense of recovering a fugitive by this mode would amount to a destruction of the right. If such an evil exists, it is incident to this unfortunate relation. It certainly furnishes no reason why the Constitution should be violated, and a safeguard broken down in reference to the liberty of a human being, which is secured to him in defending a horse or a bale of cotton.

That the provisions of this act were harsh and cruel is certain; but that any act providing for the recovery of fugitives from Slavery could have been at once humane and efficient, is not obvious. And, as the capture and rendition of alleged slaves under this act claimed a large share of public attention during the three or four years immediately following its passage, while the residue of the Compromise measures evoked no special excitement, and had none other than a noiseless, passive operation, it is not remarkable that greater success in slave-hunting, with greater alacrity on the part of the Free States in ministering to such success, seemed to the general Northern mind the sum and substance, the “being's end and aim,” of the Compromises of 1850. And, as the Federal Administration, whereof Mr. Fillmore remained the official head, and Mr. Webster became the animating soul, gave prominence and emphasis to the exertions of its subordinates [215] in aid of slave-catching, the alienation from it of anti-Slavery Whigs became more and more decided and formidable.

Numerous arrests of alleged fugitives were made in various parts of the country, but not with uniform success. In New York City, Philadelphia, and other marts largely engaged in Southern trade, no serious resistance was offered; though in one case a black man remanded to Maryland as a fugitive was honorably rejected and set at liberty by the claimant, as not the slave for whom he had been mistaken. In Boston, serious popular repugnance to rendition was repeatedly manifested; and in one case a negro known as Shadrach, who had been arrested as a fugitive, was rescued and escaped. In other cases, however, and conspicuously in those of Thomas Sims12 and Anthony Burns,13 the State and City authorities, the Judiciary, the Military, the merchants, and probably a decided majority of the citizens, approved and aided the surrender. There were cases, however, wherein the popular sentiment of the country was on the side of the hunted blacks — as was evinced at Syracuse,14 N. Y., in the rescue of Jerry Loguen, an alleged fugitive, from the hands of the authorities, and his protection by alternately hiding and forwarding him until he made his escape into Canada. At Christiana, Lancaster Co., Pa.,15 where a considerable number of negroes were compactly settled, Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland slaveholder, who attempted, with two or three accomplices, to seize his alleged slaves, four in number, was resisted by the alarmed, indignant blacks, and received a ball from a musket fired by one of them which proved fatal; and his son, who had accompanied him, was wounded. And in Milwaukee, Wis., Sherman M. Booth having been convicted in the U. S. District Court of aiding in the rescue of Joshua Glover, a fugitive from St. Louis, the Supreme Court of that State, on a habeas corpus sued out in his behalf, decided the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional and void, and set him at liberty. This decision was overruled, however, by the Supreme Court of the United States in a unanimous decision affirming the validity of the Fugitive Slave Law, and directing that, though a State Court might properly grant a habeas corpus in behalf of a person imprisoned under Federal authority, yet that the custodian in such case had only to make return that he was so held, and that this return, being proved truthful, must be accepted by the State Court as sufficient and conclusive — the Federal and State jurisdictions being each sovereign within its proper sphere, and each entitled to entire respect from the other, though operative over the same territory. And this remains to this day the adjudicated law of the land.

The activity and universality of slave-hunting, under the act of 1850, were most remarkable. That act became a law on the 18th of September; and, within ten days thereafter, a negro named James Hamlet had been seized in the city of New York, and very summarily dispatched to a woman in Baltimore, who claimed [216] him as her slave. Before the act was a month old, there had been several arrests under it, at Harrisburg and near Bedford, Pa., in Philadelphia, at Detroit, and in other places. Within the first year of its existence, more persons, probably, were seized as fugitive slaves than during the preceding sixty years. Many of these seizures were made under circumstances of great aggravation. Thus, in Philadelphia, Euphemia Williams, who had lived in Pennsylvania in freedom all her life, as she affirmed, and had there become the mother of six living children, of whom the oldest was seventeen, was arrested in 1851 as the slave of a Marylander named Purnell, from whom she was charged with escaping twenty-two years before. Her six children were claimed, of course, as also the property of her alleged master. Upon a full hearing, Judge Kane decided that she was not the person claimed by Burnell as his slave Mahala. But there were several instances in which persons who had lived in unchallenged freedom from fifteen to twenty-five years were seized, surrendered, and carried away into life-long Slavery.

The needless brutality with which these seizures were often made, tended to intensify the popular repugnance which they occasioned. In repeated instances, the first notice the alleged fugitive had of his peril was given him by a blow on the head, sometimes with a heavy club or stick of wood; and, being thus knocked down, he was carried, bleeding and insensible, before the facile commissioner, who made short work of identifying him, and earning his ten dollars, by remanding him into Slavery. In Columbia, Pa., March, 1852, a negro, named William Smith, was seized as a fugitive by a Baltimore police officer, while working in a lumber-yard, and, attempting to escape, the officer drew a pistol and shot him dead. In Wilkes-barre, Pa., a deputy marshal and three or four Virginians suddenly came upon a nearly white mulatto waiter at a hotel, and, falling upon him from behind with a club, partially shackled him. He fought them off with the hand-cuff which they had secured to his right wrist, and, covered with blood, rushed from the house and plunged into the Susque-hanna, exclaiming: “I will be drowned rather than taken alive!” He was pursued to the river-bank, and thence fired upon repeatedly, at a very short distance, as he stood in the water, up to his neck, until a ball entered his head, instantly covering his face with blood. The by-standers, who had by this time collected, were disgusted and indignant, and the hunters, fearing their interposition, retired for consultation. He thereupon came out of the water, apparently dying, and lay down on the shore. One of his pursuers remarked that “dead niggers were not worth taking South.” His clothes having been torn off in the scuffle, some one brought a pair of pantaloons, and put them on him, and he was helped to his feet by a negro named Rex; on seeing which, the hunters returned and presented their revolvers, driving him again into the river, where he remained more than an hour, with only his head above the water. His claimants dared not come within his powerful grasp, as he afterward said, “he would have [217] died contented, could he have carried two or three of them down with him.” And the hunters were deterred or shamed by the spectators from further firing. Preparations being made to arrest them as rioters, they absconded; whereupon, their victim waded some distance up the stream, and was soon after found by some women, lying flat on his face in a corn-field, insensible. He was then duly cared for, and his wounds dressed, which was the last that was seen of him. His assailants were afterward arrested in Philadelphia, on a charge of riot, on a warrant issued on due complaint by a State magistrate; but Justice Grier, of the United States Supreme Court, arrested the proceedings as an unauthorized interference with Federal officers in the discharge of their duty. In his opinion, discharging the prisoners, he said:

We are unable to perceive in this transaction anything worthy of blame in the conduct of these officers, in their unsuccessful endeavors to fulfill a most dangerous and disgusting duty; except, perhaps, a want of sufficient courage and perseverance in the attempt to execute the writ!

Of course, a law affording such facilities and temptations to kidnapping was not allowed to pass unimproved by the numerous villains who regarded negroes as the natural and lawful prey of whites under all circumstances. The Kentucky Yeoman, a Democratic pro-Slavery organ, once remarked that the work of arresting fugitives had become a regular business along the border line between the Slave and Free States, and that some of those engaged in it were not at all particular as to the previous slavery or freedom of those they arrested. How could it be expected that they should be? In many instances, free colored girls were hired for household service at some point distant from that where they had previously resided, and were known; and, being thus unsuspectingly spirited away from all who could identify them, were hurried off into Slavery. Sometimes, though not often, negroes were tempted by heavy bribes to betray their brethren into the hands of the slave-hunters. In one instance, a clerk in a dry-goods store in western New York, who was of full age, a member of a church, and had hitherto borne a respectable character, hired two colored boys to work for him in a hotel in Ohio, and on his way thither sold them as fugitive slaves to three Kentuckians, who appear to have believed his representations. One of the intended victims, detecting the plot, escaped from the cars, knocking down the Kentuckian who undertook to prevent him. The other was sold for $750 to an honorable slave-holder in Warsaw, Ky., who, upon proof of the outrage, promptly and cheerfully returned him to freedom. One girl, who was hired from New York, to live as a servant in Newark, N. J., was taken directly through Newark to Washington, and there offered to a slave-trader for $600, but not accepted; when she, having become alarmed, appealed to the hotel-keeper for protection; whereupon the kidnappers abandoned her, but were ultimately arrested at Ellicott's Mills, Md., and returned to New-York, where the husband was convicted, and sent to the penitentiary. In one instance, a negro, near Edwardsville, Ills., who had been employed in the work of capturing several [218] alleged fugitives, finally met a white man on the highway, presented a pistol, and arrested him as a runaway slave, for whom a reward of $200 had been offered. The white man happened, however, to be acquainted in Edwardsville, and was thus enabled to establish his right to himself.

The business of slave-hunting became so profitable that the sheriff of Montreal, Canada, received, in January, 1855, a letter from a police officer and constable, in Frederick, Md., making him this tempting proposition:

Vast numbers of slaves, “says the Frederick official,” escaping from their masters or owners, succeed in reaching your Provinces, and are, therefore, without the pale of the “Fugitive Slave law,” and can only be restored by cunning, together with skill. Large rewards are offered, and will be paid, for their return; and, could I find an efficient person to act with me, a great deal of money could be made, as I would equally divide. * * * The only apprehension we have of approaching too far into Canada is the fear of being arrested; and, had I a good assistant in your city, who would induce the negroes to the frontier, I would be there to pay the cash. On your answer, I can furnish names and descriptions of negroes.

Some of the judicial decisions evoked by this carnival of man-hunting were most remarkable. In Sandusky, Ohio, four men and women, with several children, were seized from a boat about to leave for Detroit, by one who claimed to be their owner. Mr. Rush R. Sloane, a lawyer, was employed to act as their counsel. As no one claimed custody of these persons, or produced any right or warrant justifying their detention, Mr. Sloane declared to the bystanders that their seizure seemed to be unjustifiable; whereupon, a rush was made for the door. A man who had hitherto been silent, now said: “Here are the papers; I own the slaves; I will hold you individually responsible for their escape.” They did escape, and Mr. Sloane was thereupon prosecuted for their value, and compelled by the judgment of a Federal Court to pay the sum of $3,950 and costs. In California, then completely under the domination of the Slave Power, which was especially strong in the selection of judges, matters were carried with a very high hand. In several instances, masters who had migrated or sent their sons to that region attended by slaves, undertook to reclaim them as fugitives and return them by force to the banks of the lower Mississippi; and the Supreme Court of that State became their accomplices for this purpose. The violation of law to this end was so palpable and shameless as to excite general remark, if not general indignation. In one leading case, the Court ruled, in effect, that the petitioner being young, in bad health, and probably unadvised of the constitutional provision of that State making all its inhabitants free, “is permitted to take Archy back to Mississippi.” An old lawyer dryly remarked, while all around were stigmatizing this decision as atrocious, that “he thought it a very fair compromise, since it gave the law to the North and the negro to the South.”

On Sunday, January 27, 1856, two slaves, with their wives and four children, escaped from Boone County, Ky., drove sixteen miles to Covington, and crossed to Cincinnati on the ice. They were missed before nightfall, and the master of five of them followed rapidly on horseback. After a few hours' inquiry, he traced [219] them to the house of a negro named Kite, and, procuring the necessary warrants, with a marshal and assistants, proceeded thither on Monday. He summoned them to surrender. They refused. Whereupon the officers broke in the door, and were assailed with clubs and pistols by the desperate fugitives. Only one of the marshal's deputies was struck, and he not seriously injured; the negroes being disarmed before they could reload.

On a first survey of the premises they had captured, a horrible sight met the officers' eyes. In one corner of the room, a child nearly white lay bleeding to death, her throat cut from ear to ear. A scream from an adjoining room drew their attention thither, when a glance revealed a negro woman holding a knife dripping with gore over the heads of two children, who were crouched upon the floor, uttering cries of pain and terror. Wresting the knife from her hand, they discovered that the children were cut across the head and shoulders, but, though bleeding freely, not dangerously wounded. The woman proclaimed herself the mother of the dead child, as also of these, whom she desired also to kill rather than see them returned to Slavery. All were secured and taken to the marshal's office, where they sat quiet and dejected, answering all questions in monosyllables, or not answering at all. An excellent character was given to the adults by their owners. The mother of the dead child, Margaret Garner, a dark mulatto, twenty-three years of age, seemed simply stupefied and dumb from excess of agony; but, on being complimented on the looks of her little boy beside her, quickly replied, “You should have seen my little girl that-that — that died. That was the bird!” That girl was almost white, and of rare beauty. The mother alleged cruel treatment on the part of her master, and said she had resolved to kill all her children and then herself, in order to escape the horrors of Slavery. A coroner's jury having rendered a verdict, in the case of the dead child, that it was killed by its mother, Margaret Garner, with a knife, great efforts were made by the State authorities to hold her for trial on a charge of murder. All the adult slaves declared that they would go dancing to the gallows rather than be sent back to Slavery. But Judges McLean and Leavitt, of the Federal Court, decided that they were in the custody of the U. S. Marshal, and could not be taken out of it by the habeas corpus of a State Court, whether under a civil or criminal process; so they were all returned to Slavery. The owner of Margaret pledged himself to hold her subject to a requisition from the Governor of Ohio to answer the charge of crime; but lie failed to keep his promise, and sent her, with the rest of the fugitives, down the river for sale, where all trace of her was lost. The cost to the Federal Treasury of this single rendition was about $22,000, whereof at least $20,000 was shamefully squandered or embezzled, as $2,000 would have amply sufficed.

The surrender of Anthony Burns probably excited more feeling than that of any other alleged fugitive, in that it attained unusual publicity, and took place in New England after the North had begun to feel the first throbs of the profound agitation excited [220] by the repudiation of the Missouri Compromise in the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill.16

In this protracted and angry controversy respecting the surrender of Fugitive Slaves, the advocates of such surrender uniformly treated it as a high moral and political duty. Mr. Webster,17 in announcing his determination to vote for Mr. Mason's Fugitive Slave bill, used this strong language:

I desire to call the attention of all sober-minded men at the North, of all conscientious men, of all men who are not carried away by some fanatical idea, or some false impression, to their constitutional obligations. I put it to all the sober and sound minds at the North as a question of morals and a question of conscience, etc., etc.

And on this theme he discoursed every variation, in speeches, in letters, and in personal intercourse, during the brief remainder of his life. And every “conservative” pulpit and rostrum resounded with feebler and duller imitations, in drift and substance, of this language — the purport of all being that whoever failed to do “with alacrity,” 18 whatever he could toward securing the return of fugitive slaves to their masters, was guilty of a flagrant breach, not only of constitutional, but of moral obligation. [221]

In the South, where every adult white male was accustomed to join instinctively and eagerly in the hunt for a fugitive slave, precisely as though he were some domestic animal that had escaped from his owner's inclosure, and taken to the highway or the woods, such language might have been used with consistency: In the North, it was otherwise; and for this reason: The essence of obedience to law is the acceptance of the obligation, not in its letter merely, but in its spirit. In other words, he only can render fill, effective obedience to a law who recognizes in such obedience the fulfillment of an intrinsic obligation — of a Divine requirement. Let us suppose, now, that Mr. Webster, while riding on one of the highways near Boston, or near Washington, had encountered a black mother with a child in her arms, fleeing on foot, with all possible speed, and had seen in the distance three or four white men, mounted and armed, fiercely pursuing. He would, of course, have comprehended at once that the woman and child were presumptively fugitive slaves, and that the pursuers were her master, or his agent, with assistants, in quest of her. But would he have thereupon attempted, “with alacrity,” to stop the fleeing woman, and forcibly detain her, until they should overtake and seize her? Nay, if he had seen her, while in a hollow out of their sight, make a dexterous plunge into a wood, so as to throw them completely off her track, would he have ridden to tell them where she had left the road, and how they must vary their course to catch her? It would be a libel on his memory to suppose him capable of any such baseness.19 He might have refrained from giving the woman a hint, by nodding or finger-pointing, as to the proper place at which to leave the road; he probably would have refrained from misleading her pursuers, by wink or sign, as to the course she had actually taken; but he would have rendered them no positive aid. His soul would have instinctively revolted from becoming a volunteer personal accomplice of the woman-hunters. Yet to refuse this was to withhold a genuine and hearty obedience to the vaunted constitutional obligation, that fugitives from Slavery “shall be delivered up on claim” of their masters. It was to repudiate in acts what he so stoutly affirmed in words. It was to “keep the word of promise to the ear, but break it to the hope.” And hence — for this discrepancy was general and obvious — the yard-stick clamor throughout the North for a vigorous and thorough execution of the Fugitive Slave law was calculated rather to disgust than conciliate the Slave Power, every day quietly inclining more and more to the desperate expedient of Disunion. It widened and deepened the Southern impression that the North was, at heart, thoroughly anti-Slavery, but would profess or do anything base in its own eyes for the sake of securing the immense pecuniary advantages derived by it from the Union.

The National Conventions of the [222] rival Whig and Democratic parties for 1852 were not held till very late — convening in Baltimore, the Democratic on the 1st, and the Whig on the 16th of June. But it had already been made manifest that a new article — acquiescence in the Compromise of 1850--was to be interpolated into the creed of one or both of these parties, if the strength of its champions should be found sufficient. Indeed, a public pledge had, several months before, been signed by Henry Clay, Howell Cobb, and some fifty other members of Congress, of either party, that they would support no candidate thereafter who did not approve and agree to abide by that Adjustment. And this Compromise, according to the interpretation now put upon it by its leading supporters, was in essence a compact to refrain from and oppose all future “agitation” or discussion adverse to the security, or the presumed interests, of Human Slavery.

In the Democratic National Convention, on the first ballot for a Presidential candidate, Gen. Cass received 117 votes, Mr. Buchanan 93, and there were 78 scattered among eight others, of whom Gov. Marcy and Mr. Douglas were foremost. On the third ballot, Gen. Cass received 119; but he then began to decline; and on the thirteenth his vote had sunk to 99, while Mr. Douglas's had risen to 50, and his friends had high hopes. On the fourteenth ballot, Mr. Douglas's vote, which had risen gradually, was 92; while Gen. Cass's had settled to 33. On the next ballot, Mr. Douglas for the first time fell off; the result announced being — Douglas 92; Buchanan 83; Cass 64; all others 53. On the thirty-third, Gen. Cass ran up again to 123; and on the thirty-fifth to 131, which was his highest--Mr. Douglas dropping to 60 on the thirty-third, and to 53 on this. Franklin Pierce, of New Hampshire, was first named on this ballot, receiving 15 votes. He ran up to 30 on the next; fell back to 29 on the following; and there stood till the forty-sixth, when he received 44; while Gov. Marcy received 97; Gen. Cass 78; Mr. Buchanan 28; and Mr. Douglas 32, with 8 scattering. On the forty-eighth, Gen. Pierce received 55, and on the next 232 votes-being all that were cast but six--and was declared the candidate. For Vice-President, William R. King, of Alabama, received 126 on the first ballot, to 174 scattered among nine rivals; and on the second ballot he had 277 to 11 for Jefferson Davis, and was nominated.

This Convention, beside reaffirming the more essential propositions of its three predecessors, and one or two others condemning Nativism, indorsing the famous Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799, etc., etc.; with reference to Slavery,

Resolved, That Congress has no power under the Constitution to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States, and that such States are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, and not prohibited by the Constitution; that all efforts of Abolitionists or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of Slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences; and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and to endanger the stability and permanency of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend of our political institutions.

Resolved, That the foregoing proposition covers, and is intended to embrace, the whole subject of Slavery agitation in Congress; [223] and, therefore, the Democratic party of the Union, standing on this National platform, will abide by and adhere to a faithful execution of the acts known as the Compromise measures settled by the last Congress — the act for reclaiming fugitives from service or labor included; which act, being designed to carry out an express provision of the Constitution, cannot, with fidelity there-to, be repealed, nor so changed as to destroy or impair its efficiency.

Resolved, That the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the Slavery question, under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made.

The Whig National Convention met in Baltimore two weeks later than its rival, and a caucus of the Southern delegates, held the night before its organization, unanimously resolved to insist on making the wisdom and finality of the Compromise of 1850 a plank in the Whig platform to be constructed by the Convention. They agreed upon a full draft of what they believed the Whig platform should be; which, on being presented to the friends of Mr. Webster, was accepted by them, and thus had a majority of the Convention pledged to it in advance of any general consultation on the subject.

On the first ballot for a Presidential candidate, Mr. Fillmore had 133 votes, Gen. Scott 131, Mr. Webster 29. On the next, Gen. Scott had 133, and Mr. Fillmore but 131. These proportions were nearly preserved through three or four days--Gen. Scott gaining slightly and unsteadily on Mr. Fillmore--till, on the fiftieth ballot, Gen. Winfield Scott received 142, and on the fifty-second 148. On the next, he was nominated; having 159 votes to 112 for Mr. Fillmore and 21 for Mr. Webster. William A. Graham, of North Carolina, was, on the second ballot, nominated for Vice-President.

The Southern platform had already been imposed on the Convention — the Slavery plank by a vote of 164 Yeas to 117 Nays. It is as follows:

Eighth, That the series of acts of the XXXIst Congress known as the Compromise Measures of 1850--the act known as the Fugitive Slave law included — are received and acquiesced in by the Whig party of the United States as a settlement, in principle and substance, of the dangerous and exciting questions which they embrace; and, so far as they are concerned, we will maintain them, and insist on their strict enforcement, until time and experience shall demonstrate the necessity of further legislation to guard against the evasion of the laws on the one hand, and the abuse of their powers on the other — not impairing their present efficiency; and we deprecate all further agitation of the question thus settled, as dangerous to our peace, and will discountenance all efforts to continue or renew such agitation, whenever, wherever, or however, the attempt may be made; and we will maintain this system as essential to the nationality of the Whig party, and the integrity of the Union.

Gen. Scott made haste to plant himself unequivocally and thoroughly on the platform thus erected, which was in undoubted accordance with his own feelings and convictions. But his success in the canvass was by no means commensurate with the expectations of his friends. Many of the anti-Slavery Whigs, by whose efforts he had been nominated, supported him coldly because of the platform; while the intense pro-Slavery section of the party did not support him at all-distrusting, not him, but the influences which, they apprehended, might guide his councils.

The “Free soil Democracy,” who yet maintained a National organization on the basis of open and thorough hostility to Slavery Extension and all pro-Slavery compromises, held their nominating Convention at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, on the 11th of August; presented John P. Hale, of New [224] Hampshire, for President, and George W. Julian, of Indiana, for Vice-President; and, though they carried no State, they polled a far stronger vote than they would or could have done but for the Whig platform aforesaid; and they made their gain wholly at the expense of Gen. Scott. When the polls were closed and the result made manifest, it appeared that he had carried only the States of Massachusetts, Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee--four in all, choosing 42 Electors; while Gen. Pierce had carried twenty-seven States, choosing 254 Electors. Never before was there such an overwhelming defeat of a party that had hoped for success. Even little Delaware had, for the first time — save only in the reelection of Monroe — voted for a “Democratic” President. But quite a number of States had been carried for Gen. Pierce by very close votes; so that the popular preponderance of his party was by no means so great as the electoral result would seem to indicate. In all the States except South Carolina (where the Electors are not chosen by the people, but where there was no serious opposition to Pierce and King) the popular vote summed up as follows: For Pierce, 1,601,274; for Scott, 1,386,580; for Hale, 155,825; Pierce over Scott, 214,694; over Scott and Hale together, 58,896. And, whatever else the Election might have meant, there was no doubt that the popular verdict was against “Slavery agitation,” and in favor of maintaining the Compromise of 1850.20

1 Foote, 28,738; Davis, 27,729.

2 For Cooperation, 25,098; for Secession, 17,796. These totals are obtained by adding up the votes for delegates in the several “parishes.”

3 Democrat, of Erie, Pa.

4 September, 12th.

5 Samuel A. Eliot, Massachusetts, John L. Taylor, Ohio, Edward W. McGaughey, Indiana.

6 Amendments — Article VII.

7 Sec. 6.

8 The reason, or, at least, the excuse, offered for this, imported that the labor of making out the necessary papers was greater in case of a rendition than in the alternative.

9 Dated New York, April 4, 1851.

10 This view was also taken by many Southrons of the “State rights” school, especially by several eminent South Carolinians.

11 In the case of Prigg against Pennsylvania.

12 April 12, 1851.

13 May 27, 1854.

14 October 1, 1851.

15 September 11, 1851.

16 On the 2d of June, 1854--the repudiation of the Missouri compact having recently been consummated in the passage and Presidential approval of the Kansas-Nebraska bill — Anthony Burns having been adjudged a fugitive at Boston, President Pierce ordered the U. S. cutter Morris to take him from that city to life-long bondage in Virginia. The following spirited stanzas thereupon appeared (June 13th) in The New York Tribune:

Hail to the Stars and Stripes.

hail to the Stars and Stripes!
     The boastful flag all hail!
The tyrant trembles now,
     And at the sight grows pale;
The Old World groans in pain,
     And turns her eye to see,
Beyond the Western Main,
     The emblem of the Free.

Hail to the Stars and Stripes!
     Hope beams in every ray!
And, shining through the bars
     Of gloom, points out the way:
The Old World sees the light
     That shall her cells illume;
And, shrinking back to night,
     Oppression reads her doom.

Hail to the Stars and Stripes!
     They float in every sea;
The crystal waves speed on
     The emblem of the Free!
Beneath the azure sky
     Of soft Italia's clime,
Or where Auroras die
     In solitude sublime.

All hail the flaunting Lie!
     The Stars grow pale and dim--
The Stripes are bloody scars,
     A lie the flaunting hymn!
It shields the pirate's deck,
     It binds a man in chains;
It yokes the captive's neck,
     And wipes the bloody stains.

Tear down the flaunting Lie!
     Half-mast the starry flag!
Insult no sunny sky
     With Hate's polluted rag!
Destroy it, ye who can!
     Deep sink it in the waves!
It bears a fellow-man
     To groan with fellow-slaves.

Awake the burning scorn!
     The vengeance long and deep,
That, till a better morn,
     Shall neither tire nor sleep!
Swear once again the vow,
     O, freeman I dare to do!
God's will is ever now!
     May His thy will renew!

Enfurl the boasted Lie!
     Till Freedom lives again,
To reign once more in truth
     Among untrammeled men!
Roll up the starry sheen--
     Conceal its bloody stains;
For in its folds are seen
     The stamp of rusting chains.

Be bold, ye heroes all!
     Spurn, spurn the flaunting Lie,
Till Peace, and Truth, and Love
     Shall fill the bending sky;
Then, floating in the air,
     O'er hill, and dale, and sea,
‘T will stand forever fair,
     The emblem of the Free!

17 In his 7th of March speech.

18 Ibid.

19 It is within the personal knowledge of the writer that politicians who declaimed loudly in public of our constitutional obligations to surrender fugitives, and reproached their neighbors for infidelity thereto, privately gave money to aid the escape of fugitive slaves to Canada.

20 On the day before that of the choice of Presidential Electors by the people, the writer met an old friend whom he had not before seen for years, but whom he had formerly known as an ardent and active Whig. Speaking to him of the morrow's contest, in the undoubting confidence of a political compatriot, he was met at first by blank reserve, and then a frank assertion: “I shall not vote this year as I formerly did.” “What does that mean?” “Why, I have been down South since I last saw you, and I don't think Slavery so bad as I once did.” No question of Slavery had ever been broached between us; and there was now no Slavery issue between the great National parties; yet an instinct stronger than logic had taught him that, if he would uphold and maintain Slavery, he must vote the Democratic ticket.

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