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Sir, I might here stop. It is enough in this place, and on this occasion, to show the unconstitutionality of this enactment. Your duty commences at once. All legislation hostile to the fundamental law of the land should be repealed without delay. But the argument is not yet exhausted. Even if this Act could claim any validity or apology under the Constitution, which it cannot, it lacks that essential support in the Public Conscience of the States, where it is to be enforced, which is the life of all law, and without which any law must become a dead letter.

The Senator from South Carolina (Mr. Butler) was right, when, at the beginning of the session, he pointedly said that a law which could [153] be enforced only by the bayonet, was no law. Sir, it is idle to suppose that an Act of Congress becomes effective, merely by compliance with the forms of legislation. Something more is necessary. The Act must be in harmony with the prevailing public sentiment of the community upon which it bears. Of course, I do not suggest that the cordial support of every man or of every small locality is necessary; but I do mean that the public feelings, the public convictions, the public conscience, must not be touched, wounded, lacerated, by every endeavor to enforce it. With all these, it must be so far in harmony, that, like other laws, by which property, liberty and life are guarded, it may be administered by the ordinary process of courts, without jeoparding the public peace or shocking good men. If this be true as a general rule—if the public support and sympathy be essential to the life of all law—this is especially the case in an enactment which concerns the important and sensitive rights of Personal Liberty. In conformity with this principle, the Legislature of Massachusetts, by formal resolution, in 1850, with singular unanimity, declared:

‘We hold it to be the duty of Congress to pass such laws only in regard thereto as will be maintained by the sentiments of the Free States, where such laws are to be enforced.’

The duty of consulting these sentiments was recognized by Washington. While President of the United States, at the close of his Administration, he sought to recover a slave who had fled to New Hampshire. His autograph letter to Mr. Whipple, the Collector at Portsmouth, dated at Philadelphia, 28th November, 1796, which I now hold in my hand, and which has never before seen the light, after describing the fugitive, and particularly expressing the desire of ‘her mistress,’ Mrs. Washington, for her return, employs the following decisive language:

I do not mean, however, by this request, that such violent measures should be used as would excite a mob or riot, which might be the case if she has adherents, or even uneasy sensations in the minds of well-disposed citizens. Rather than either of these should happen, I would forego her services altogether; and the example, also, which is of infinite more importance.

Mr. Whipple, in his reply, dated at Portsmouth, December 22, 1796, an autograph copy of which I have, recognizes the rule of Washington:

‘I will now, sir, agreeably to your desire, send her to Alexandria, if it be practicable without the consequences which you except—that of exciting a riot or a mob, or creating uneasy sensations in the minds of well-disposed persons. The first cannot be calculated beforehand; it will be governed by the popular opinion of the moment, or the circumstances [154] that may arise in the transaction. The latter may be sought into and judged of by conversing with such persons without discovering the occasion. So far as I have had opportunity, I perceive that different sentiments are entertained on this subject.’

The fugitive never was returned; but lived in freedom to a good old age, down to a very recent period, a monument of the just forbearance of him whom we aptly call the Father of his Country. It is true that he sought her return. This we must regret, and find its apology. He was at the time a slaveholder. Though often with various degrees of force expressing himself against slavery, and promising his suffrage for its abolition, he did not see this wrong as he saw it at the close of life, in the illumination of another sphere. From this act of Washington, still swayed by the policy of the world, I appeal to Washington writing his will. From Washington on earth I appeal to Washington in Heaven. Seek not by his name to justify any such effort. His death is above his life. His last testament cancels his authority as a slaveholder. However he may have appeared before man, he came into the presence of God only as the liberator of his slaves. Grateful for this example, I am grateful also that, while a slaveholder, and seeking the return of a fugitive, he has left in permanent record a rule of conduct which, if adopted by his country, will make Slave-Hunting impossible. The chances of a riot, or mob, or ‘even uneasy sensations among well-disposed persons,’ are to prevent any such pursuit.

Sir, the existing Slave Act cannot be enforced without violating the precept of Washington. Not merely ‘uneasy sensations of welldis-posed persons,’ but rage, tumult, commotion, mob, riot, violence, death, gush from its fatal overflowing fountains. Not a case occurs without endangering the public peace. Workmen are brutally dragged from employments to which they are wedded by years of successful labor; husbands are ravished from wives, and parents from children. Everywhere there is disturbance; at Detroit, Buffalo, Harrisburg, Syracuse, Philadelphia, New York, Boston. At Buffalo the fugitive was cruelly knocked by a log of wood against a red-hot stove, and his mock trial commenced while the blood still oozed from his wounded head. At Syracuse he was rescued by a sudden mob; so also at Boston. At Harrisburg the fugitive was shot; at Christiana the Slave-Hunter was shot. At New York unprecedented excitement, always with uncertain consequences, has attended every case. Again at Boston a fugitive, according to the received report, was first basely seized under pretext that he was a criminal; arrested only after a deadly struggle; [155] guarded by officers who acted in violation of the laws of the State; tried in a Court-House surrounded by chains, contrary to the common law; finally surrendered to Slavery by trampling on the criminal process of the State, under an escort in violation again of the laws of the State, while the pulpits trembled and the whole people, not merely ‘uneasy,’ but swelling with ill-suppressed indignation, for the sake of order and tranquillity, without violence witnessed the shameful catastrophe.

With every attempt to administer the Slave Act, it constantly becomes more revolting, particularly in its influence on the agents it enlists. Pitch cannot be touched without defilement, and all who lend themselves to this work seem at once and unconsciously to lose the better part of man. The spirit of the law passes into them, as the devils entered the swine. Upstart commissioners, the mere mushrooms of courts, vie and revie with each other. Now by indecent speed, now by harshness of manner, now by a denial of evidence, now by crippling the defence, and now by open glaring wrong, they make the odious Act yet more odious. Clemency, grace, and justice die in its presence. All this is observed by the world. Not a case occurs which does not harrow the souls of good men, and bring tears of sympathy to the eyes, also those other noble tears which ‘patriots shed o'er dying laws.’

Sir, I shall speak frankly. If there be an exception to this feeling, it will be found chiefly with a peculiar class. It is a sorry fact that the ‘mercantile interest,’ in its unpardonable selfishness, twice in English history, frowned upon the endeavors to suppress the atrocity of Algerine Slavery; that it sought to baffle Wilberforce's great effort for the abolition of the African slave trade; and that, by a sordid compromise, at the formation of our Constitution, it exempted the same detested Heaven-defying traffic from American judgment. And now representatives of this ‘interest,’ forgetful that commerce is the child of Freedom, join in hunting the Slave. But the great heart of the people recoils from this enactment. It palpitates for the fugitive, and rejoices in his escape. Sir, I am telling you facts. The literature of the age is all on his side. The songs, more potent than laws, are for him. The poets, with voices of melody, are for freedom. Who could sing for Slavery? They who make the permanent opinion of the country, who mould our youth, whose words, dropped into the soul, are the germs of character, supplicate for the Slave. And now, sir, behold a new and heavenly ally. A woman, inspired by Christian genius, enters the lists, like another Joan of Arc, and with marvellous power, sweeps the chords of the popular [156] heart. Now melting to tears, and now inspiring to rage, her work everywhere touches the conscience, and makes the Slave-Hunter more hateful. In a brief period, nearly 100,000 copies of Uncle Tom's Cabin have been already circulated. But this extraordinary and sudden success—surpassing all other instances in the records of literature—cannot be regarded merely as the triumph of genius. Higher far than this, it is the testimony of the people, by an unprecedented act, against the Fugitive Slave Bill.

I have said, sir, that this sentiment is just. And is it not? Every escape from slavery necessarily and instinctively awakens the regard of all who love Freedom. The endeavor, though unsuccessful, reveals courage, manhood, character. No story is read with more interest than that of our own Lafayette, when, aided by a gallant South Carolinian, in defiance of the despotic ordinances of Austria, kindred to our Slave Act, he strove to escape from the bondage of Olmutz. Literature pauses with exultation over the struggles of Cervantes, the great Spaniard, while a slave in Algiers, to regain the liberty for which he says, in his immortal work, ‘we ought to risk life itself, Slavery being the greatest evil that can fall to the lot of man.’ Science, in all her manifold triumphs, throbs with pride and delight, that Arago, the astronomer and philosopher—devoted republican also—was redeemed from barbarous Slavery to become one of her greatest sons. Religion rejoices serenely, with joy unspeakable, in the final escape of Vincent de Paul. Exposed in the public squares of Tunis to the inspection of the traffickers in human flesh, this illustrious Frenchman was subjected to every vileness of treatment, compelled, like a horse, to open his mouth, to show his teeth, to trot, to run, to exhibit his strength in lifting burdens, and then, like a horse, legally sold in market overt. Passing from master to master, after a protracted servitude, he achieved his freedom, and regaining France, commenced that resplendent career of charity by which he is placed among the great names of Christendom. Princes and orators have lavished panegyrics upon this fugitive slave; and the Catholic Church, in homage to his extraordinary virtues, has introduced him into the company of saints.

Less by genius or eminent services, than by sufferings, are the fugitive slaves of our country now commended. For them every sentiment of humanity is aroused:

Who could refrain
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make his love known?

[157] Rude and ignorant they may be; but in their very efforts for Freedom, they claim kindred with all that is noble in the Past. They are among the heroes of our age. Romance has no stories of more thrilling interest than theirs. Classical antiquity has preserved no examples of adventurous trial more worthy of renown. Among them are men whose names will be treasured in the annals of their race. By their eloquent voice they have already done much to make their wrongs known, and to secure the respect of the world. History will soon lend them her avenging pen. Proscribed by you during life, they will proscribe you through all time. Sir, already judgment is beginning. A righteous public sentiment palsies your enactment.

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