The Anti-Slavery Examiner, Part 3 of 4
American Anti-Slavery Society

Part 19 out of 20

consideration, it was found impracticable to determine the comparative
value of lands, and other property, in so extensive a territory, with
any degree of accuracy; and population alone was adopted as the only
practicable rule or criterion of representation. It was urged by the
deputies of the Eastern States, that a representation of two-fifths
would of little utility, and that their entire representation would be
unequal and burthensome. That in a time of war, slaves rendered a
country more vulnerable, while its defence devolved upon its _free_
inhabitants. On the other hand, we insisted, that in time of peace
they contributed by their labor to the general wealth as well as other
members of the community. That as rational beings they had a right of
representation, and in some instances might be highly useful in war.
On these principles, the Eastern States gave the matter up, and
consented to the regulation as it has been read. I hope these reasons
will appear satisfactory. It is the same rule or principle which was
proposed some years ago by Congress, and assented to by twelve of the
States. It may wound the delicacy of the gentleman from Guilford, (Mr.
GOUDY,) but I hope he will endeavor to accommodate his feelings to the
interests and circumstances of his country.

Mr. JAMES GALLOWAY said, that he did not object to the representation
of negroes, so much as he did to the fewness of the number of
representatives. He was surprised how we came to have but five,
including those intended to represent negroes. That in his humble
opinion North Carolina was entitled to that number independent of the

First clause of the 9th section read.

Mr. J. M'DOWALL wished to hear the reasons of this restriction.

Mr. SPAIGHT answered that there was a contest between the Northern and
Southern States--that the Southern States, whose principal support
depended on the labor of slaves, would not consent to the desire of
the Northern States to exclude the importation of slaves absolutely.
That South Carolina and Georgia insisted on this clause, as they were
now in want of hands to cultivate their lands: That in the course of
twenty years they would be fully supplied: That the trade would be
abolished then, and that in the mean time some tax or duty might be
laid on.

Mr. M'DOWALL replied, that the explanation was just such as he
expected, and by no means satisfactory to him, and that he looked upon
it as a very objectionable part of the system.

Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, I rise to express sentiments similar to
those of the gentleman from Craven. For my part, were it practicable
to put an end to the importation of slaves immediately, it would give
me the greatest pleasure, for it certainly is a trade utterly
inconsistent with the rights of humanity, and under which great
cruelties have been exercised. When the entire abolition of slavery
takes place, it will be an event which must be pleasing to every
generous mind, and every friend of human nature; but we often wish for
things which are not attainable. It was the wish of a great majority
of the Convention to put an end to the trade immediately, but the
States of South Carolina and Georgia would not agree to it. Consider
then what would be the difference between our present situation in
this respect, if we do not agree to the Constitution, and what it will
be if we do agree to it. If we do not agree to it, do we remedy the
evil? No, sir, we do not; for if the Constitution be not adopted, it
will be in the power of every State to continue it forever. They may
or may not abolish it at their discretion. But if we adopt the
Constitution, the trade must cease after twenty years, if Congress
declare so, whether particular States please so or not: surely, then,
we gain by it. This was the utmost that could be obtained. I heartily
wish more could have been done. But as it is, this government is nobly
distinguished above others by that very provision. Where is there
another country in which such a restriction prevails? We, therefore,
sir, set an example of humanity by providing for the abolition of this
inhuman traffic, though at a distant period. I hope, therefore, that
this part of the Constitution will not be condemned, because it has
not stipulated for what it was impracticable to obtain.

Mr. SPAIGHT further explained the clause. That the limitation of this
trade to the term of twenty years, was a compromise between the
Eastern States and the Southern States. South Carolina and Georgia
wished to extend the term. The Eastern States insisted on the entire
abolition of the trade. That the State of North Carolina had not
thought proper to pass any law prohibiting the importation of slaves,
and therefore its delegation in the convention did not think
themselves authorized to contend for an immediate prohibition of it.

Mr. IREDELL added to what he had said before, that the States of
Georgia and South Carolina had lost a great many slaves during the
war, and that they wished to supply the loss.

Mr. GALLOWAY. Mr. Chairman, the explanation given to this clause does
not satisfy my mind. I wish to see this abominable trade put an end
to. But in case it be thought proper to continue this abominable
traffic for twenty years, yet I do not wish to see the tax on the
importation extended to all persons whatsoever. Our situation is
different from the people to the North. We want citizens; they do not.
Instead of laying a tax, we ought to a give a bounty, to encourage
foreigners to come among us. With respect to the abolition of slavery,
it requires the utmost consideration. The property of the Southern
States consists principally of slaves. If they mean to do away slavery
altogether, this property will be destroyed. I apprehend it means to
bring forward manumission. If we must manumit our slaves, what country
shall we send them to? It is impossible for us to be happy if, after
manumission, they are to stay among us.

Mr. IREDELL. Mr. Chairman, the worthy gentleman, I believe, has
misunderstood this clause, which runs in the following words: "The
migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now
existing, shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the
Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on
_such importation_, not exceeding ten dollars for each person."

Now, sir, observe that the Eastern States, who long ago have abolished
slavery, did not approve of the expression _slaves_; they therefore
used another that answered the same purpose. The committee will
observe the distinction between the two words migration and
importation. The first part of the clause will extend to persons who
come into the country as free people, or are brought as slaves, but
the last part extends to slaves only. The word _migration_ refers to
free persons; but the word _importation_ refers to slaves, because
free people cannot be said to be imported. The tax, therefore, is only
to be laid on slaves who are imported, and not on free persons who
migrate. I further beg leave to say, that the gentleman is mistaken in
another thing. He seems to say that this extends to the abolition of
slavery. Is there anything in this constitution which says that
Congress shall have it in their power to abolish the slavery of those
slaves who are now in the country? Is it not the plain meaning of it,
that after twenty years they may prevent the future importation of
slaves? It does not extend to those now in the country. There is
another circumstance to be observed. There is no authority vested in
congress to restrain the States in the interval of twenty years, from
doing what they please. If they wish to inhibit such importation, they
may do so. Our next assembly may put an entire end to the importation
of slaves.

Article fourth. The first section and two first clauses of the second
section read without observation.

The last clause read--

Mr. IREDELL begged leave to explain the reason of this clause. In some
of the Northern States, they have emancipated all their slaves. If any
of our slaves, said he, go there and remain there a certain time, they
would, by the present laws, be entitled to their freedom, so that
their masters could not get them again. This would be extremely
prejudicial to the inhabitants of the Southern States, and to prevent
it, this clause is inserted in the Constitution. Though the word
_slave_ be not mentioned, this is the meaning of it. The Northern
delegates, owing to their particular scruples on the subject of
slavery, did not choose the word _slave_ to be mentioned.

The rest of the forth article read without observation.

* * * * *

Mr. IREDELL. It is however to be observed, that the first and forth
clauses in the ninth section of the first article, are protected from
any alteration until the year 1808; and in order that no consolidation
should take place, it is provided, that no State shall, by any
amendment or alteration, be ever deprived of an equal suffrage in the
Senate without its own consent. The two first prohibitions are with
respect to the census, according to which direct taxes are imposed,
and with respect to the importation of slaves. As to the first, it
must be observed, that there is a material difference between the
Northern and Southern States. The Northern States have been much
longer settled, and are much fuller of people than the Southern, but
have not land in equal proportion, nor scarcely any slaves. The
subject of this article was regulated with great difficulty, and by a
spirit of concession which it would not be prudent to disturb for a
good many years. In twenty years there will probably be a great
alteration, and then the subject may be re-considered with less
difficulty and greater coolness. In the mean time, the compromise was
upon the best footing that could be obtained. A compromise likewise
took place in regard to the importation of slaves. It is probable that
all the members reprobated this inhuman traffic, but those of South
Carolina and Georgia would not consent to an immediate prohibition of
it; one reason of which was, that during the last war they lost a vast
number of negroes, which loss they wish to supply. In the mean time,
it is left to the States to admit or prohibit the importation, and
Congress may impose a limited duty upon it.


Hon. RAWLINS LOWNDES. In the first place, what cause was there for
jealously of our importing negroes? Why confine us to twenty years, or
rather why limit us at all? For his part he thought this trade could
be justified on the principles of religion, humanity, and justice; for
certainly to translate a set of human beings from a bad country to a
better, was fulfilling every part of these principles. But they don't
like our slaves, because they have none themselves; and therefore want
to exclude us from this great advantage; why should the Southern
States allow of this, without the consent of nine States?

Judge PENDLETON observed, that only three States, Georgia, South
Carolina, and North Carolina, allowed the importation of negroes.
Virginia had a clause in her Constitution for this purpose, and
Maryland, he believed, even before the war, prohibited them.

Mr. LOWNDES continued--that we had a law prohibiting the importation
of negroes for three years, a law he greatly approved of; but there
was no reason offered, why the Southern States might not find it
necessary to alter their conduct, and open their ports. Without
negroes this State would degenerate into one of the most contemptible
in the Union; and cited an expression that fell from Gen. PINCKNEY on
a former debate, that whilst there remained one acre of swamp land in
South Carolina he should raise his voice against restricting the
importation of negroes. Even in granting the importation for twenty
years, care had been taken to make us pay for this indulgence, each
negro being liable, on importation, to pay a duty not exceeding ten
dollars, and, in addition to this, were liable to a capitation tax.
Negroes were our wealth, our only natural resource; yet behold how our
kind friends in the North were determined soon to tie up our hands,
and drain us of what we had. The Eastern States drew their means of
subsistence, in a great measure, from their shipping; and on that
head, they had been particularly careful not to allow of any burdens;
they were not to pay tonnage, or duties; no, not even the form of
clearing out: all ports were free and open to them! Why, then, call
this a reciprocal bargain, which took all from one party, to bestow it
on the other?

Major BUTLER observed that they were to pay a five per cent impost.
This, Mr. LOWNDES proved, must fall upon the consumer. They are to be
the carriers; and we, being the consumers, therefore all expenses
would fall upon us.

Hon. E. RUTLEDGE. The gentleman had complained of the inequality of
the taxes between the Northern and Southern States--that ten dollars a
head was imposed on the importation of negroes, and that those negroes
were afterwards taxed. To this it was answered, that the ten dollars
per head was an equivalent to the five per cent on imported articles;
and as to their being afterwards taxed, the advantage is on our side;
or, at least, not against us.

In the Northern States, the labor is performed by white people; in the
Southern by black. All the free people (and there are few others) in
the Northern States, are to be taxed by the new Constitution, whereas,
only the free people, and two-fifths of the slaves in the Southern
States are to be rated in the apportioning of taxes. But the principle
objection is, that no duties are laid on shipping--that in fact the
carrying trade was to be vested in a great measure in the Americans;
that the shipbuilding business was principally carried on in the
Northern States. When this subject is duly considered, the Southern
States, should be the last to object to it. Mr. RUTLEDGE then went
into a consideration of the subject; after which the house adjourned.

Gen. CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY. We were at a loss for some time for
a role to ascertain the proportionate wealth of the States, at last we
thought that the productive labor of the inhabitants was the best rule
for ascertaining their wealth; in conformity to this rule, joined to
a spirit of concession, we determined that representatives should be
apportioned among the several States, by adding to the whole number of
free persons three-fifths of the slaves. We thus obtained a
representation for our property, and I confess I did not expect that
we had conceded too much to the Eastern States, when they allowed us a
representation for a species of property which they have not among

The honorable gentleman alleges, that the Southern States are weak, I
sincerely agree with him--we are so weak that by ourselves we could
not form an union strong enough for the purpose of effectually
protecting each other. Without union with the other States, South
Carolina must soon fall. Is there any one among us so much a Quixotte
as to suppose that this State could long maintain her independence if
she stood alone, or was only connected with the Southern States? I
scarcely believe there is. Let an invading power send a naval force
into the Chesapeake to keep Virginia in alarm, and attack South
Carolina with such a naval and military force as Sir Henry Clinton
brought here in 1780, and though they might not soon conquer us, they
would certainly do us an infinite deal of mischief; and if they
considerably increased their numbers, we should probably fall. As,
from the nature of our climate, and the fewness of our inhabitants, we
are undoubtedly weak, should we not endeavor to form a close union
with the Eastern States, who are strong?

For who have been the greatest sufferers in the Union, by our
obtaining our independence? I answer, the Eastern States; they have
lost every thing but their country, and their freedom. It is notorious
that some ports to the Eastward, which used to fit out one hundred and
fifty sail of vessels, do not now fit out thirty; that their trade of
ship-building, which used to be very considerable, is now annihilated;
that their fisheries are trifling, and their mariners in want of
bread; surely we are called upon by every tie of justice, friendship,
and humanity, to relieve their distresses; and as by their exertions
they have assisted us in establishing our freedom, we should let them,
in some measure, partake of our prosperity. The General then said he
would make a few observations on the objections which the gentleman
had thrown out on the restrictions that might be laid on the African
trade after the year 1808. On this point your delegates had to contend
with the religious and political prejudices of the Eastern and Middle
States, and with the interested and inconsistent opinion of Virginia,
who was warmly opposed to our importing more slaves. I am of the same
opinion now as I was two years ago, when I used the expressions that
the gentleman has quoted, that while there remained one acre of swamp
land uncleared of South Carolina, I would raise my voice against
restricting the importation of negroes. I am as thoroughly convinced
as that gentleman is, that the nature of our climate, and the flat,
swampy situation of our country, obliges us to cultivate our land with
negroes, and that without them South Carolina would soon be a desert

You have so frequently heard my sentiments on this subject that I need
not now repeat them. It was alleged, by some of the members who
opposed an unlimited importation, that slaves increased the weakness
of any State who admitted them; that they were a dangerous species of
property, which an invading enemy could easily turn against ourselves
and the neighboring States, and that as we were allowed a
representation for them in the House of Representatives, our influence
in government would be increased in proportion as we were less able to
defend ourselves. "Show some period," said the members from the
Eastern States, "when it may be in our power to put a stop, if we
please, to the importation of this weakness, and we will endeavor, for
your convenience, to restrain the religious and political prejudices
of our people on this subject."

The Middle States and Virginia made us no such proposition; they were
for an immediate and total prohibition. We endeavored to obviate the
objections that were made, in the best manner we could, and assigned
reasons for our insisting on the importation, which there is no
occasion to repeat, as they must occur to every gentleman in the
house: a committee of the States was appointed in order to accommodate
this matter, and after a great deal of difficulty, it was settled on
the footing recited in the Constitution.

By this settlement we have secured an unlimited importation of negroes
for twenty years; nor is it declared that the importation shall be
then stopped; it may be continued--we have a security that the general
government can never emancipate them, for no such authority is
granted, and it is admitted on all hands, that the general government
has no powers but what are expressly granted by the Constitution; and
that all rights not expressed were reserved by the several States. We
have obtained a right to recover our slaves, in whatever part of
America they may take refuge, which is a right we had not before. In
short, considering all circumstances, we have made the best terms, for
the security of this species of property, it was in our power to make.
We would have made better if we could, but on the whole I do not think
them bad.

Hon. ROBERT BARNWELL. Mr. BARNWELL continued to say, I now come to the
last point for consideration, I mean the clause relative to the
negroes; and here I am particularly pleased with the Constitution; it
has not left this matter of so much importance to us open to immediate
investigation; no, it has declared that the United States shall not,
at any rate, consider this matter for twenty-one years, and yet
gentlemen are displeased with it.

Congress has guaranteed this right for that space of time, and at its
expiration may continue it as long as they please. This question then
arises, what will their interest lead them to do? The Eastern States,
as the honorable gentleman says, will become the carriers of America,
it will, therefore, certainly be their interest to encourage
exportation to as great an extent as possible; and if the quantum of
our products will be diminished by the prohibition of negroes, I
appeal to the belief of every man, whether he thinks those very
carriers will themselves dam up the resources from whence their profit
is derived? To think so is so contradictory to the general conduct of
mankind, that I am of opinion, that without we ourselves put a stop to
them, the traffic for negroes will continue forever.



It were doubtless to be wished, that the power of prohibiting the
importation of slaves, had not been postponed until the year 1808, or
rather that it had been suffered to have immediate operation. But it
is not difficult to account either for this restriction on the general
government, or for the manner in which the whole clause is expressed.

It ought to be considered as a great point gained in favor of
humanity, that a period of twenty years may terminate for ever within
these States, a traffic which has so long and so loudly upbraided the
barbarism of modern policy; that within that period, it will receive a
considerable discouragement from the Federal government, and may be
totally abolished, by a concurrence of the few States which continue
the unnatural traffic in the prohibitory example which has been given
by so great a majority of the Union. Happy would it be for the
unfortunate Africans, if an equal prospect lay before them, of being
redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren! Attempts
have been made to pervert this clause into an objection against the
Constitution, by representing it on one side, as a criminal toleration
of an illicit practice; and on another, as calculated to prevent
voluntary and beneficial emigrations from Europe to America. I mention
these misconstructions, not with a view to give them an answer, for
they deserve none; but as specimens of the manner and spirit, in which
some have thought fit to conduct their opposition to the proposed



All this is admitted, it will perhaps be said: but does it follow from
an admission of numbers for the measure of representation, or of
slaves combined with free citizens as a ratio of taxation, that slaves
ought to be included in the numerical rule of representation?

Slaves are considered as property, not as persons. They ought
therefore, to be comprehended in estimates of taxation, which are
founded on property, and to be excluded from representation, which is
regulated by a census of persons. This is the objection as I
understand it; stated in its full force. I shall be equally candid in
stating the reasoning which may be offered on the opposite side. We
subscribe to the doctrine, might one of our Southern brethren observe,
that representation relates more immediately to persons, and taxation
more immediately to property; and we join in the application of this
distinction to the case of our slaves.

But we must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as
property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the
case is, that they partake of both these qualities, being considered
by our laws, in some respects as persons, and in other respects as

In being compelled to labor, not for himself; but for a master; in
being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject
at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body
by the capricious will of another; the slave may appear to be degraded
from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which
fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on
the other hand, in his life, and in his limbs, against the violence of
all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being
punishable himself for all violence committed against others; the
slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the
society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person,
not as a mere article of property. The Federal Constitution,
therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves,
when it views them in the mixed character of persons and property.
This is in fact their true character. It is the character bestowed on
them by the laws under which they live, and it will not be denied,
that these are the proper criterion; because it is only under the
pretext, that the laws have transformed the negroes into subjects of
property, that a place is disputed them in the computation of numbers;
and it is admitted, that if the laws were to restore the rights which
have been taken away, the negroes could no longer be refused an equal
share of representation with the other inhabitants.

This question may be placed in another light. It is agreed on all
sides, that numbers are the best scale of wealth and taxation, as they
are the only proper scale of representation. Would the convention have
been impartial or consistent, if they had rejected the slaves from the
list of inhabitants, when the shares of representation were to be
calculated; and inserted them on the lists when the tariff of
contributions was to be adjusted?

Could it be reasonably expected, that the Southern States would concur
in a system, which considered their slaves in some degree as men, when
burdens were to be imposed, but refused to consider them in the same
light, when advantages were to be conferred?

Might not some surprise also be expressed, that those who reproach the
Southern States with the barbarous policy of considering as property a
part of their human brethren, should themselves contend, that the
government to which all the States are to be parties, ought to
consider this unfortunate race more completely in the unnatural light
of property, than the very laws of which they complain?

It may be replied, perhaps, that slaves are not included in the
estimate of representatives in any of the States possessing them. They
neither vote themselves, nor increase the votes of their masters. Upon
what principle, then, ought they to be taken into the Federal estimate
of representation? In rejecting them altogether, the Constitution
would, in this respect, have followed the very laws which have been
appealed to the proper guide.

This objection is repelled by a single observation. It is a
fundamental principle of the proposed Constitution, that as the
aggregate number of representatives allotted to the several States is
to be determined by a Federal rule, founded on the aggregate number of
inhabitants; so, the right of choosing this allotted number in each
State, is to be exercised by such part of the inhabitants, as the
State itself may designate. The qualifications on which the right of
suffrage depends, are not perhaps the same in any two States. In some
of the States the difference is very material. In every State, a
certain proportion of inhabitants are deprived of this right by the
Constitution of the State, who will be included in the census by which
the Federal Constitution apportions the representatives. In this point
of view, the Southern States might retort the complaint, by insisting,
that the principle laid down by the convention required that no regard
should be had to the policy of particular States towards their own
inhabitants; and consequently, that the slaves, as inhabitants, should
have been admitted into the census according to their full number, in
like manner with other inhabitants, who, by the policy of other
States, are not admitted to all the rights of citizens. A rigorous
adherence, however, to this principle is waived by those who would be
gainers by it. All that they ask, is that equal moderation be shown on
the other side. Let the case of the slaves be considered, as it is in
truth, a peculiar one. Let the compromising expedient of the
Constitution be mutually adopted, which regards them as inhabitants,
but as debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants,
which regards the _slave_ as divested of two-fifths of the _man_.



May 13, 1789.

Mr. PARKER (of Va.) moved to insert a clause in the bill, imposing a
duty on the importation of slaves of ten dollars each person. He was
sorry that the Constitution prevented Congress from prohibiting the
importation altogether; he thought it a defect in that instrument that
it allowed of such actions, it was contrary to the revolution
principles, and ought not to be permitted; but as he could not do all
the good he desired, he was willing to do what lay in his power. He
hoped such a duty as he moved for would prevent, in some degree, this
irrational and inhuman traffic; if so, he should feel happy from the
success of his motion.

Mr. SMITH (of South Carolina,) hoped that such an important and
serious proposition as this would not be hastily adopted; it was a
very late moment for the introduction of new subjects. He expected the
committee had got through the business, and would rise without
discussing any thing further; at least, if gentlemen were determined
on considering the present motion, he hoped they would delay for a few
days, in order to give time for an examination of the subject. It was
certainly a matter big with the most serious consequences to the State
he represented; be did not think any one thing that had been discussed
was so important to them, and the welfare of the Union, as the
question now brought forward, but he was not prepared to enter on any
argument, and therefore requested the motion might either be withdrawn
or laid on the table.

Mr. SHERMAN (of Ct.) approved of the object of the motion, but he did
not think this bill was proper to embrace the subject. He could not
reconcile himself to the insertion of human beings as an article of
duty, among goods, wares and merchandise. He hoped it would be
withdrawn for the present, and taken up hereafter as an independent

Mr. JACKSON, (of Geo.) observing the quarter from which this motion
came, said it did not surprise him, though it might have that effect
on others. He recollected that Virginia was an old settled State, and
had her complement of slaves, so she was careless of recruiting her
numbers by this means; the natural increase of her imported blacks
were sufficient for their purpose; but he thought gentlemen ought to
let their neighbors get supplied before they imposed such a burden
upon the importation. He knew this business was viewed in an odious
light to the Eastward, because the people were capable of doing their
own work, and had no occasion for slaves; but gentlemen will have some
feeling for others; they will not try to throw all the weight upon
others, who have assisted in lightening their burdens; they do not
wish to charge us for every comfort and enjoyment of life, and at the
same time take away the means of procuring them; they do not wish to
break us down at once.

He was convinced, from the inaptitude of the motion, and the want of
time to consider it, that the candor of the gentleman would induce him
to withdraw it for the present; and if ever it came forward again, he
hoped it would comprehend the white slaves as well as black, who were
imported from all the goals of Europe; wretches, convicted of the most
flagrant crimes, were brought in and sold without any duty whatever.
He thought that they ought to be taxed equal to the Africans, and had
no doubt but the constitutionality and propriety of such a measure was
equally apparent as the one proposed.

Mr. TUCKER (of S.C.) thought it unfair to bring in such an important
subject at a time when debate was almost precluded. The committee had
gone through the impost bill, and the whole Union were impatiently
expecting the result of their deliberations, the public must be
disappointed and much revenue lost, or this question cannot undergo
that full discussion which it deserves.

We have no right, said he, to consider whether the importation of
slaves is proper or not; the Constitution gives us no power on that
point, it is left to the States to judge of that matter as they see
fit. But if it was a business the gentleman was determined to
discourage, he ought to have brought his motion forward sooner, and
even then not have introduced it without previous notice. He hoped the
committee would reject the motion, if it was not withdrawn; he was not
speaking so much for the State he represented, as for Georgia, because
the State of South Carolina had a prohibitory law, which could be
renewed when its limitation expired.

Mr. PARKER (of Va.,) had ventured to introduce the subject after full
deliberation, and did not like to withdraw it. Although the gentleman
from Connecticut (Mr. SHERMAN) had said, that they ought not to be
enumerated with goods, wares, and merchandise, he believed they were
looked upon by the African traders in this light; he knew it was
degrading the human species to annex that character to them; but he
would rather do this than continue the actual evil of importing slaves
a moment longer. He hoped Congress would do all that lay in their
power to restore to human nature its inherent privileges, and if
possible wipe off the stigma which America labored under. The
inconsistency in our principles, with which we are justly charged,
should be done away; that we may shew by our actions the pure
beneficence of the doctrine we held out to the world in our
declaration of independence.

Mr. SHERMAN (of Ct.,) thought the principles of the motion and the
principles of the bill were inconsistent; the principle of the bill
was to raise revenue, the principle of the motion to correct a moral
evil. Now, considering it as an object of revenue, it would be unjust,
because two or three States would bear the whole burden, while he
believed they bore their full proportion of all the rest. He was
against receiving the motion into this bill, though he had no
objection to taking it up by itself, on the principles of humanity and
policy; and therefore would vote against it if it was not withdrawn.

Mr. AMES (of Mass.,) joined the gentleman last up. No one could
suppose him favorable to slavery, he detested it from his soul, but he
had some doubts whether imposing a duty on the importation, would not
have the appearance of countenancing the practice; it was certainly a
subject of some delicacy, and no one appeared to be prepared for the
discussion, he therefore hoped the motion would be withdrawn.

Mr. LIVERMORE. Was not against the principle of the motion, but in the
present case he conceived it improper. If negroes were goods, wares,
or merchandise, they came within the title of the bill; if they were
not, the bill would be inconsistent; but if they are goods, wares or
merchandise, the 5 per cent ad valorem, will embrace the importation;
and the duty of 5 per cent is nearly equal to 10 dollars per head, so
there is no occasion to add it even on the score of revenue.

Mr. JACKSON (of Ga.,) said it was the fashion of the day, to favor the
liberty of slaves; he would not go into a discussion of the subject,
but he believed it was capable of demonstration that they were better
off in their present situation, than they would be if they were
manumitted; what are they to do if they are discharged? Work for a
living? Experience has shewn us they will not. Examine what is become
of those in Maryland, many of them have been set free in that State;
did they turn themselves to industry and useful pursuits? No, they
turn out common pickpockets, petty larceny villains; and is this
mercy, forsooth, to turn them into a way in which they must lose their
lives,--for where they are thrown upon the world, void of property and
connections, they cannot get their living but by pilfering. What is to
be done for compensation? Will Virginia set all her negroes free? Will
they give up the money they cost them, and to whom? When this practice
comes to be tried there, the sound of liberty will lose those charms
which make it grateful to the ravished ear.

But our slaves are not in a worse situation than they were on the
coast of Africa; it is not uncommon there for the parents to sell
their children in peace; and in war the whole are taken and made
slaves together. In these cases it is only a change of one slavery for
another; and are they not better here, where they have a master bound
by the ties of interest and law to provide for their support and
comfort in old age, or infirmity, in which, if they were free, they
would sink under the pressure of woe for want of assistance.

He would say nothing of the partiality of such a tax, it was admitted
by the avowed friends of the measure; Georgia in particular would be
oppressed. On this account it would be the most odious tax Congress
could impose.

Mr. SCHUREMAN (of N.J.) hoped the gentleman would withdraw his
motion, because the present was not the time or place for introducing
the business; he thought it had better be brought forward in the
House, as a distinct proposition. If the gentleman persisted in having
the question determined, he would move the previous question if he was

Mr. MADISON, (of Va.) I cannot concur with gentlemen who think the
present an improper time or place to enter into a discussion of the
proposed motion; if it is taken up in a separate view, we shall do the
same thing at a greater expense of time. But the gentlemen say that it
is improper to connect the two objects, because they do not come
within the title of the bill. But this objection may be obviated by
accommodating the title to the contents; there may be some
inconsistency in combining the ideas which gentlemen have expressed,
that is, considering the human race as a species of property; but the
evil does not arise from adopting the clause now proposed, it is from
the importation to which it relates. Our object in enumerating persons
on paper with merchandise, is to prevent the practice of actually
treating them as such, by having them, in future, forming part of the
cargoes of goods, wares, and merchandise to be imported into the
United States. The motion is calculated to avoid the very evil
intimated by the gentleman. It has been said that this tax will be
partial and oppressive: but suppose a fair view is taken of this
subject, I think we may form a different conclusion. But if it be
partial or oppressive, are there not many instances in which we have
laid taxes of this nature? Yet are they not thought to be justified by
national policy? If any article is warranted on this account, how much
more are we authorized to proceed on this occasion? The dictates of
humanity, the principles of the people, the national safety and
happiness, and prudent policy requires it of us; the constitution has
particularly called our attention to it--and of all the articles
contained in the bill before us, this is one of the last I should be
willing to make a concession upon so far as I was at liberty to go,
according to the terms of the constitution or principles of justice--I
would not have it understood that my zeal would carry me to disobey
the inviolable commands of either.

I understood it had been intimated, that the motion was inconsistent
or unconstitutional. I believe, sir, my worthy colleague has formed
the words with a particular reference to the Constitution; any how, so
far as the duty is expressed, it perfectly accords with that
instrument; if there are any inconsistencies in it, they may be
rectified; I believe the intention is well understood, but I am far
from supposing the diction improper. If the description of the persons
does not accord with the ideas of the gentleman from Georgia, (Mr.
JACKSON,) and his idea is a proper one for the committee to adopt, I
see no difficulty in changing the phraseology.

I conceive the Constitution, in this particular, was formed in order
that the government, whilst it was restrained from laying a total
prohibition, might be able to give some testimony of the sense of
America, with respect to the African trade. We have liberty to impose
a tax or duty upon the importation of such persons as any of the
States now existing shall think proper to admit; and this liberty was
granted, I presume, upon two considerations--the first was, that until
the time arrived when they might abolish the importation of slaves,
they might have an opportunity of evidencing their sentiments, on the
policy and humanity of such a trade; the other was that they might be
taxed in due proportion with other articles imported; for if the
possessor will consider them as property, of course they are of value
and ought to be paid for. If gentlemen are apprehensive of oppression
from the weight of the tax, let them make an estimate of its
proportion, and they will find that it very little exceeds five per
cent ad valorem, so that they will gain very little by having them
thrown into that mass of articles, whilst by selecting them in the
manner proposed, we shall fulfil the prevailing expectation of our
fellow citizens, and perform our duty in executing the purposes of the
Constitution. It is to be hoped that by expressing a national
disapprobation of this trade, we may destroy it, and save ourselves
from reproaches, and our posterity the imbecility ever attendant on a
country filled with slaves.

I do not wish to say anything harsh, to the hearing of gentlemen who
entertain different sentiments from me, or different sentiments from
those I represent; but if there is any one point in which it is
clearly the policy of this nation, so far as we constitutionally can,
to vary the practice of obtaining under some of the State governments,
it is this; but it is certain a majority of the States are opposed to
this practice, therefore, upon principle, we ought to discountenance
it as far as is in our power.

If I was not afraid of being told that the representatives of the
several States, are the best able to judge of what is proper and
conducive to their particular prosperity, I should venture to say that
it is as much the interest of Georgia and South Carolina, as of any in
the Union. Every addition they receive to their number of slaves,
tends to weaken them and renders them less capable of self defence. In
case of hostilities with foreign nations, they will be the means of
inviting attack instead of repelling invasion. It is a necessary duty
of the general government to protect every part of the empire against
danger, as well internal as external; every thing therefore which
tends to increase this danger, though it may be a local affair, yet if
it involves national expense or safety, becomes of concern to every
part of the Union, and is a proper subject for the consideration of
those charged with the general administration of the government. I
hope, in making these observations, I shall not be understood to mean
that a proper attention ought not to be paid to the local opinions and
circumstances of any part of the United States, or that the particular
representatives are not best able to judge of the sense of their
immediate constituents.

If we examine the proposed measure by the agreement there is between
it, and the existing State laws, it will show us that it is patronized
by a very respectable part of the Union. I am informed that South
Carolina has prohibited the importation of slaves for several years
yet to come; we have the satisfaction then of reflecting that we do
nothing more than their own laws do at this moment. This is not the
case with one State. I am sorry that her situation is such as to seem
to require a population of this nature, but it is impossible in the
nature of things, to consult the national good without doing what we
do not wish to do, to some particular part. Perhaps gentlemen contend
against the introduction of the clause, on too slight grounds. If it
does not conform with the title of the bill, alter the latter; if it
does not conform to the precise terms of the Constitution, amend it.
But if it will tend to delay the whole bill, that perhaps will be the
best reason for making it the object of a separate one. If this is the
sense of the committee I shall submit.

Mr. GERRY (of Mass.) thought all duties ought to be laid as equal as
possible. He had endeavored to enforce this principle yesterday, but
without the success he wished for, he was bound by the principles of
justice therefore to vote for the proposition; but if the committee
were desirous of considering the subject fully by itself, he had no
objection, but he thought when gentlemen laid down a principle, they
ought to support it generally.

Mr. BURKE (of S.C.) said, gentlemen were contending for nothing; that
the value of a slave, averaged about L80, and the duty on that sum at
five per cent, would be ten dollars, as congress could go no farther
than that sum, he conceived it made no difference whether they were
enumerated or left in the common mass.

Mr. MADISON, (of Va.) If we contend for nothing, the gentlemen who are
opposed to us do not contend for a great deal; but the question is,
whether the five per cent ad valorem, on all articles imported, will
have any operation at all upon the introduction of slaves, unless we
make a particular enumeration on this account; the collector may
mistake, for he would not presume to apply the term goods, wares, and
merchandise to any person whatsoever. But if that general definition
of goods, wares and merchandise are supposed to include African
Slaves, why may we not particularly enumerate them, and lay the duty
pointed out by the Constitution, which, as gentlemen tell us, is no
more than five per cent upon their value; this will not increase the
burden upon any, but it will be that manifestation of our sense,
expected by our constituents, and demanded by justice and humanity.

Mr. BLAND (of Va.) had no doubt of the propriety or good policy of
this measure. He had made up his mind upon it, he wished had never
been introduced into America; but if it was impossible at this time to
cure the evil, he was very willing to join in any measures that would
prevent its extending farther. He had some doubts whether the
prohibitory laws of the States were not in part repealed. Those who
had endeavored to discountenance this trade, by laying a duty on the
importation, were prevented by the Constitution from continuing such
regulation, which declares, that no State shall lay any impost or
duties on imports. If this was the case, and he suspected pretty
strongly that it was, the necessity of adopting the proposition of his
colleague was now apparent.

Mr. SHERMAN (of Ct.) said, the Constitution does not consider these
persons as a species of property; it speaks of them as persons, and
says, that a tax or duty may be imposed on the importation of them
into any State which shall permit the same, but they have no power to
prohibit such importation for twenty years. But Congress have power to
declare upon what terms persons coming into the United States shall be
entitled to citizenship; the rule of naturalization must however be
uniform. He was convinced there were others ought to be regulated in
this particular, the importation of whom was of an evil tendency, he
meant convicts particularly. He thought that some regulation
respecting them was also proper; but it being a different subject, it
ought to be taken up in a different manner.

Mr. MADISON (of Va.) was led to believe, from the observation that had
fell from the gentlemen, that it would be best to make this the
subject of a distinct bill: he therefore wished his colleague would
withdraw his motion, and move in the house for leave to bring in a
bill on the same principles.

Mr. PARKER (of Va.) consented to withdraw his motion, under a
conviction that the house was fully satisfied of its propriety. He
knew very well that these persons were neither goods, nor wares, but
they were treated as articles of merchandise. Although he wished to
get rid of this part of his property, yet he should not consent to
deprive other people of theirs by any act of his without their

The committee rose, reported progress, and the house adjourned.

FEBRUARY 11th, 1790.

Mr. LAWRANCE (of New York,) presented an address from the society of
Friends, in the City of New York; in which they set forth their desire
of co-operating with their Southern brethren.

Mr. HARTLEY (of Penn.) then moved to refer the address of the annual
assembly of Friends, held at Philadelphia, to a committee; he thought
it a mark of respect due so numerous and respectable a part of the

Mr. WHITE (of Va.) seconded the motion.

Mr. SMITH, (of S.C.) However respectable the petitioners may be, I
hope gentlemen will consider that others equally respectable are
opposed to the object which is aimed at, and are entitled to an
opportunity of being heard before the question is determined. I
flatter myself gentlemen will not press the point of commitment
to-day, it being contrary to our usual mode of procedure.

Mr. FITZSIMONS (of Penn.) If we were now about to determine the final
question, the observation of the gentleman from South Carolina would
apply; but, sir, the present question does not touch upon the merits
of the case; it is merely to refer the memorial to a committee, to
consider what is proper to be done; gentlemen, therefore, who do not
mean to oppose the commitment to-morrow, may as well agree to it
to-day, because it will tend to save the time of the house.

Mr. JACKSON (of Geo.) wished to know why the second reading was to be
contended for to-day, when it was diverting the attention of the
members from the great object that was before the committee of the
whole? Is it because the feelings of the Friends will be hurt, to have
their affair conducted in the usual course of business? Gentlemen who
advocate the second reading to-day, should respect the feelings of the
members who represent that part of the Union which is principally to
be affected by the measure. I believe, sir, that the latter class
consists of as useful and as good citizens as the petitioners, men
equally friends to the revolution, and equally susceptible of the
refined sensations of humanity and benevolence. Why then should such
particular attention be paid to them, for bringing forward a business
of questionable policy? If Congress are disposed to interfere in the
importation of slaves, they can take the subject up without advisers,
because the Constitution expressly mentions all the power they can
exercise on the subject.

Mr. SHERMAN (of Conn.) suggested the idea of referring it to a
committee, to consist of a member from each State, because several
States had already made some regulations on this subject. The sooner
the subject was taken up he thought it would be the better.

Mr. PARKER, (of Va.) I hope, Mr. Speaker, the petition of these
respectable people, will be attended to with all the readiness the
importance of its object demands; and I cannot help expressing the
pleasure I feel in finding so considerable a part of the community
attending to matters of such momentous concern to the future
prosperity and happiness of the people of America. I think it my duty,
as a citizen of the Union, to espouse their cause; and it is incumbent
upon every member of this house to sift the subject well, and
ascertain what can be done to restrain a practice so nefarious. The
Constitution has authorized us to levy a tax upon the importation of
such persons as the States shall authorize to be admitted. I would
willingly go to that extent; and if any thing further can be devised
to discountenance the trade, consistent with the terms of the
Constitution, I shall cheerfully give it my assent and support.

Mr. MADISON, (of Va.) The gentleman from Pennsylvania, (Mr.
FITZSIMONS) has put this question on its proper ground. If gentlemen
do not mean to oppose the commitment to-morrow, they may as well
acquiesce in it to-day; and I apprehend gentlemen need not be alarmed
at any measure it is likely Congress should take; because they will
recollect, that the Constitution secures to the individual States the
right of admitting, if they think proper, the importation of slaves
into their own territory, for eighteen years yet unexpired; subject,
however, to a tax, if Congress are disposed to impose it, of not more
than ten dollars on each person.

The petition, if I mistake not, speaks of artifices used by
self-interested persons to carry on this trade; and the petition from
New York states a case that may require the consideration of Congress.
If anything is within the Federal authority to restrain such violation
of the rights of nations, and of mankind, as is supposed to be
practised in some parts of the United States, it will certainly tend
to the interest and honor of the community to attempt a remedy, and is
a proper subject for our discussion. It may be, that foreigners take
advantage of the liberty afforded them by the American trade, to
employ our slipping in the slave trade between Africa and the West
Indies, when they are restrained from employing their own by
restrictive laws of their nation. If this is the case, is there any
person of humanity that would not wish to prevent them? Another
consideration why we should commit the petition is, that we may give
no ground of alarm by a serious opposition, as if we were about to
take measures that were unconstitutional.

Mr. STONE (of Md.) feared that if Congress took any measures,
indicative of an intention to interfere with the kind of property
alluded to, it would sink it in value very considerably, and might be
injurious to a great number of the citizens, particularly in the
Southern States.

He thought the subject was of general concern, and that the
petitioners had no more right to interfere will it than any other
members of the community. It was an unfortunate circumstance, that it
was the property of sects to imagine they understood the rights of
human nature better than all the world beside; and that they would, in
consequence, be meddling with concerns in which they had nothing to

As the petition relates to a subject of a general nature, it ought to
lie on the table, as information; he would never consent to refer
petitions, unless the petitioners were exclusively interested. Suppose
there was a petition to come before us from a society, praying us to
be honest in our transactions, or that we should administer the
Constitution according to its intention--what would you do with a
petition of this kind? Certainly it would remain on your table. He
would, nevertheless, not have it supposed, that the people had not a
right to advise and give their opinion upon public measures; but he
would not be influenced by that advice or opinion, to take up a
subject sooner than the convenience of other business would admit.
Unless he changed his sentiments, he would oppose the commitment.

Mr. BURKE (of S.C.) thought gentlemen were paying attention to what
did not deserve it. The men in the gallery had come here to meddle in
a business with which they had nothing to do; they were volunteering
it in the cause of others, who neither expected nor desired it. He had
a respect for the body of Quakers, but, nevertheless, he did not
believe they had more virtue, or religion, than other people, nor
perhaps so much, if they were examined to the bottom, notwithstanding
their outward pretences. If their petition is to be noticed, Congress
ought to wait till counter applications were made, and then they might
have the subject more fairly before them. The rights of the Southern
States ought not to be threatened, and their property endangered, to
please people who were to be unaffected by the consequences.

Mr. HARTLEY (of Penn.) thought the memorialists did not deserve to be
aspersed for their conduct, if influenced by motives of benignity,
they solicited the Legislature of the Union to repel, as far as in
their power, the increase of a licentious traffic. Nor do they merit
censure, because their behavior has the appearance of more morality
than other people's. But it is not for Congress to refuse to hear the
applications of their fellow citizens, while those applications
contain nothing unconstitutional or offensive. What is the object of
the address before us? It is intended to bring before this House a
subject of great importance to the cause of humanity; there are
certain facts to be enquired into, and the memorialists are ready to
give all the information in their power; they are waiting, at a great
distance from their homes, and wish to return; if, then, it will be
proper to commit the petition to-morrow, it will be equally proper
to-day, for it is conformable to our practice, beside, it will tend to
their conveniency.

Mr. LAWRANCE (of N.Y.) The gentleman from South Carolina says, the
petitioners are of a society not known in the laws or Constitution.
Sir, in all our acts, as well as in the Constitution, we have noticed
this Society; or why is it that we admit them to affirm, in cases
where others are called upon to swear? If we pay this attention to
them, in one instance, what good reason is there for contemning them
in another? I think the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. STONE,) carries
his apprehensions too far, when he fears that negro-property will fall
in value, by the suppression of the slave-trade; not that I suppose it
immediately in the power of Congress to abolish a traffic which is a
disgrace to human nature; but it appears to me, that, if the
importation was crushed, the value of a slave would be increased
instead of diminished; however, considerations of this kind have
nothing to do with the present question; gentlemen may acquiesce in
the commitment of the memorial, without pledging themselves to support
its object.

Mr. JACKSON, (of Ga.) I differ much in opinion with the gentleman last
up. I apprehend if, through the interference of the general
government, the slave trade was abolished, it would evince to the
people a disposition toward a total emancipation, and they would hold
their property in jeopardy. Any extraordinary attention of Congress to
this petition may have, in some degree, a similar effect. I would beg
to ask those, then, who are so desirous of freeing the negroes, if
they have funds sufficient to pay for them? If they have, they may
come forward on that business with some propriety; but, if they have
not, they should keep themselves quiet, and not interfere with a
business in which they are not interested. They may as well come
forward, and solicit Congress to interdict the West India trade,
because it is injurious to the morals of mankind; from thence we
import rum, which has a debasing influence upon the consumer. But,
sir, is the whole morality of the United States confined to the
Quakers? Are they the only people whose feelings are to be consulted
on this occasion? Is it to them we owe our present happiness? Was it
they who formed the Constitution? Did they, by their arms, or
contributions, establish our independence? I believe they were
generally opposed to that measure. Why, then, on their application,
shall we injure men, who, at the risk of their lives and fortunes,
secured to the community their liberty and property? If Congress pay
any uncommon degree of attention to their petition, it will furnish
just ground of alarm to the Southern States. But, why do these men set
themselves up, in such a particular manner, against slavery? Do they
understand the rights of mankind, and the disposition of Providence
better than others? If they were to consult that Book which claims our
regard, they will find that slavery is not only allowed, but
commended. Their Saviour, who possessed more benevolence and
commiseration than they pretend to, has allowed of it. And if they
fully examine the subject, they will find that slavery has been no
novel doctrine since the days of Cain. But be these things as they
may, I hope the House will order the petition to lie on the table, in
order to prevent alarming our Southern brethren.

Mr. SEDGWICK, (of Mass.) If it was a serious question, whether the
Memorial should be committed or not, I would not urge it at this time;
but that cannot be a question for a moment, if we consider our
relative situation with the people. A number of men,--who are
certainly very respectable, and of whom, as a society, it may be said
with truth, that they conform their moral conduct to their religious
tenets, as much as any people in the whole community,--come forward
and tell you, that you may effect two objects by the exercise of a
Constitutional authority which will give great satisfaction; on the
one hand you may acquire revenue, and on the other, restrain a
practice productive of great evil. Now, setting aside the religious
motives which influenced their application, have they not a right, as
citizens, to give their opinion of public measures? For my part I do
not apprehend that any State, or any considerable number of
individuals in any State, will be seriously alarmed at the commitment
of the petition, from a fear that Congress intend to exercise an
unconstitutional authority, in order to violate their rights; I
believe there is not a wish of the kind entertained by any member of
this body. How can gentlemen hesitate then to pay that respect to a
memorial which it is entitled to, according to the ordinary mode of
procedure in business? Why shall we defer doing that till to-morrow,
which we can do to-day? for the result, I apprehend, will be the same
in either case.

Mr. Smith, (of S.C.) The question, I apprehend, is, whether we will
take the petition up for a second reading, and not whether it shall be
committed? Now, I oppose this, because it is contrary to our usual
practice, and does not allow gentlemen time to consider of the merits
of the prayer; perhaps some gentlemen may think it improper to commit
it to so large a committee as has been mentioned; a variety of causes
may be supposed to show that such a hasty decision is improper;
perhaps the prayer of it is improper. If I understood it right, on its
first reading, though, to be sure, I did not comprehend perfectly all
that the petition contained, it prays that we should take measures for
the abolition of the slave trade; this is desiring an unconstitutional
act, because the constitution secures that trade to the States,
independent of congressional restrictions, for the term of twenty-one
years. If, therefore, it prays for a violation of constitutional
rights, it ought to be rejected, as an attempt upon the virtue and
patriotism of the house.

Mr. BOUDINOT, (of N.J.) It has been said that the Quakers have no
right to interfere in this business; I am surprised to hear this
doctrine advanced, after it has been so lately contended, and settled,
that the people have a right to assemble and petition for redress of
grievances; it is not because the petition comes from the society of
Quakers that I am in favor of the commitment, but because it comes
from citizens of the United States, who are as equally concerned in
the welfare and happiness of their country as others. There certainly
is no foundation for the apprehensions which seem to prevail in
gentlemen's minds. If the petitioners were so uninformed: as to
suppose that Congress could be guilty of a violation of the
Constitution, yet, I trust we know our duty better than to be led
astray by an application from any man, or set of men whatever. I do
not consider the merits of the main question to be before us; it will
be time enough to give our opinions upon that, when the committee have
reported. If it is in our power, by recommendation, or any other way,
to put a stop to the slave trade in America, I do not doubt of its
policy; but how far the Constitution will authorize us to attempt to
depress it, will be a question well worthy of our consideration.

Mr. SHERMAN (of Conn.) observed, that the petitioners from New York,
stated that they had applied to the legislature of that State, to
prohibit certain practices which they conceived to be improper, and
which tended to injure the well-being of the community; that the
legislature had considered the application, but had applied no remedy,
because they supposed that power was exclusively vested in the general
government, under the Constitution of the United States; it would,
therefore, be proper to commit that petition, in order to ascertain
what were the powers of the general government, in the case doubted by
the legislature of New York.

Mr. GERRY (of Mass.) thought gentlemen were out of order in entering
upon the merits of the main question at this time, when they were
considering the expediency of committing the petition; he should,
therefore, not follow them further in that track than barely to
observe, that it was the right of the citizens to apply for redress,
in every case they conceived themselves aggrieved in; and it was the
duty of Congress to afford redress as far as is in their power. That
their Southern brethren had been betrayed into the slave trade by the
first settlers, was to be lamented; they were not to be reflected on
for not viewing this subject in a different light, the prejudice of
education is eradicated with difficulty; but he thought nothing would
excuse the general government for not exerting itself to prevent, as
far as they constitutionally could, the evils resulting from such
enormities as were alluded to by the petitioners; and the same
considerations induced him highly to commend the part the society of
Friends had taken; it was the cause of humanity they had interested
themselves in, and he wished, with them, to see measures pursued by
every nation, to wipe off the indelible stain which the slave trade
had brought upon all who were concerned in it.

Mr. MADISON (of Va.) thought the question before the committee was no
otherwise important than as gentlemen made it so by their serious
opposition. Did they permit the commitment of the Memorial, as a
matter of course, no notice would be taken of it out of doors; it
could never be blown up into a decision of the question respecting the
discouragement of the African slave trade, nor alarm the owners with
an apprehension that the general government were about to abolish
slavery in all the States; such things are not contemplated by any
gentleman; but, to appearance, they decide the question more against
themselves than would be the case if it was determined on its real
merits, because gentlemen may be disposed to vote for the commitment
of a petition, without any intention of supporting the prayer of it.

Mr. WHITE (of Va.) would not have seconded the motion, if he had
thought it would have brought on a lengthy debate. He conceived that a
business of this kind ought to be decided without much discussion; it
had constantly been the practice of the house, and he did not suppose
there was any reason for a deviation.

Mr. PAGE (of Va.) said, if the memorial had been presented by any
individual, instead of the respectable body it was, he should have
voted in favor of a commitment, because it was the duty of the
legislature to attend to subjects brought before them by their
constituents; if, upon inquiry, it was discovered to be improper to
comply with the prayer of the petitioners, he would say so, and they
would be satisfied.

Mr. STONE (of Md.) thought the business ought to be left to take its
usual course; by the rules of the house, it was expressly declared,
that petitions, memorials, and other papers, addressed to the house,
should not be debated or decided on the day they were first read.

Mr. BALDWIN (of Ga.) felt at a loss to account why precipitation was
used on this occasion, contrary to the customary usage of the house;
he had not heard a single reason advanced in favor of it. To be sure
it was said the petitioners are a respectable body of men--he did not
deny it--but, certainly, gentlemen did not suppose they were paying
respect to them, or to the house, when they urged such a hasty
procedure; anyhow it was contrary to his idea of respect, and the idea
the house had always expressed, when they had important subjects under
consideration; and, therefore, he should be against the motion. He was
afraid that there was really a little volunteering in this business,
as it had been termed by the gentleman from Georgia.

Mr. HUNTINGTON (of Conn.) considered the petitioners as much
disinterested as any person in the United States; he was persuaded
they had an aversion to slavery; yet they were not singular in this,
others had the same; and he hoped when Congress took up the subject,
they would go as far as possible to prohibit the evil complained of.
But he thought that would better be done by considering it in the
light of revenue. When the committee of the whole, on the finance
business, came to the ways and means, it might properly be taken into
consideration, without giving any ground for alarm.

Mr. TUCKER, (of S.C.) I have no doubt on my mind respecting what ought
to be done on this occasion; so far from committing the memorial, we
ought to dismiss it without further notice. What is the purport of the
memorial? It is plainly this; to reprobate a particular kind of
commerce, in a moral view, and to request the interposition of
Congress to effect its abrogation. But Congress have no authority,
under the constitution, to do more than lay a duty of ten dollars upon
each person imported; and this is a political consideration, not
arising from either religion or morality, and is the only principle
upon which we can proceed to take it up. But what effect do these men
suppose will arise from their exertions? Will a duty of ten dollars
diminish the importation? Will the treatment be better than usual? I
apprehend it will not, nay, it may be worse. Because an interference
with the subject may excite a great degree of restlessness in the
minds of those it is intended to serve, and that may be a cause for
the masters to use more rigor towards them, than they would otherwise
exert; so that these men seem to overshoot their object. But if they
will endeavor to procure the abolition of the slave trade, let them
prefer their petitions to the State legislatures, who alone have the
power of forbidding the importation; I believe their applications
there would be improper; but if they are any where proper, it is
there. I look upon the address then to be ill-judged, however good the
intention of the framers.

Mr. SMITH (of S.C.) claimed it as a right, that the petition should
lay over till to-morrow.

Mr. BOUDINOT (of N.J.) said it was not unusual to commit petitions on
the day they were presented; and the rules of the house admitted the
practice, by the qualification which followed the positive order, that
petitions should not be decided on the day they were first read,
"unless where the house shall direct otherwise."

Mr. SMITH (of S.C.) declared his intention of calling the yeas and
nays, if gentlemen persisted in pressing the question.

Mr. CLYMER (of Penn.) hoped the motion would be withdrawn for the
present, and the business taken up in course to-morrow; because,
though he respected the memorialists, he also respected order and the
situation of the members.

Mr. FITZSIMONS (of Penn.) did not recollect whether he moved or
seconded the motion, but if he had, he should not withdraw it on
account of the threat of calling the yeas and nays.

Mr. BALDWIN (of Ga.) hoped the business would be conducted with temper
and moderation, and that gentlemen would concede and pass the subject
over for a day at least.

Mr. SMITH (of S.C.) had no idea of holding out a threat to any
gentleman. If the declaration of an intention to call the yeas and
nays was viewed by gentlemen in that light, he would withdraw that

Mr. WHITE (of Va.) hereupon withdrew his motion. And the address was
ordered to lie on the table.

FEBRUARY 12th, 1790.

The following memorial was presented and read:

"To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States: The
memorial of the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the abolition of
slavery, the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage, and
the improvement of the condition of the African race, respectfully
showeth: That from a regard for the happiness of mankind, an
association was formed several years since in this State, by a number
of her citizens, of various religious denominations, for promoting the
abolition of slavery, and for the relief of those unlawfully held in
bondage. A just and acute conception of the true principles of
liberty, as it spread through the land, produced accessions to their
numbers, many friends to their cause, and a legislative cooperation
with their views, which, by the blessing of Divine Providence, have
been successfully directed to the relieving from bondage a large
number of their fellow creatures of the African race. They have also
the satisfaction to observe, that, in consequence of that spirit of
philanthropy and genuine liberty which is generally diffusing its
beneficial influence, similar institutions are forming at home and
abroad. That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike
objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of
happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the
political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position. Your
memorialists, particularly engaged in attending to the distresses
arising from slavery, believe it their indispensable duty to present
this subject to your notice. They have observed with real
satisfaction, that many important and salutary powers are vested in
you for 'promoting the welfare and securing the blessings of liberty
to the people of the United States;' and as they conceive, that these
blessings ought rightfully to be administered without distinction of
color, to all descriptions of people, so they indulge themselves in
the pleasing expectation, that nothing which can be done for the
relief of the unhappy objects of their care, will be either omitted or
delayed. From a persuasion that equal liberty was originally the
portion, and is still the birth-right of all men, and influenced by
the strong ties of humanity and the principles of their institution,
your memorialists conceived themselves bound to use all justifiable
endeavors to loosen the bands of slavery, and promote a general
enjoyment of the blessings of freedom. Under these impressions, they
earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of slavery;
that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration of liberty to
those unhappy men, who alone, in this land of freedom, are degraded
into perpetual bondage, and who, amidst the general joy of surrounding
freemen, are groaning in servile subjection; that you will devise
means for removing this inconsistency from the character of the
American people; that you will promote mercy and justice towards this
distressed race, and that you will step to the very verge of the power
vested in you, for discouraging every species of traffic in the
persons of our fellow-men.


"PHILADELPHIA, _February 3, 1790."_

Mr. HARTLEY (of Penn.) then called up the memorial presented
yesterday, from the annual meeting of Friends at Philadelphia, for a
second reading; whereupon the same was read a second time, and moved
to be committed.

Mr. TUCKER (of S.C.) was sorry the petition had a second reading, as
he conceived it contained an unconstitutional request, and from that
consideration he wished it thrown aside. He feared the commitment of
it would be a very alarming circumstance to the Southern States; for
if the object was to engage Congress in an unconstitutional measure,
it would be considered as an interference with their rights, the
people would become very uneasy under the government, and lament that
they ever put additional powers into their hands. He was surprised to
see another memorial on the same subject, and that signed by a man who
ought to have known the constitution better. He thought it a
mischievous attempt, as it respected the persons in whose favor it was
intended. It would buoy them up with hopes, without a foundation, and
as they could not reason on the subject, as more enlightened men
would, they might be led to do what they would be punished for, and
the owners of them, in their own defence, would be compelled to
exercise over them a severity they were not accustomed to. Do these
men expect a general emancipation of slaves by law? This would never
be submitted to by the Southern States without a civil war. Do they
mean to purchase their freedom? He believed their money would fall
short of the price. But how is it they are more concerned in this
business than others? Are they the only persons who possess religion
and morality? If the people are not so exemplary, certainly they will
admit the clergy are; why then do we not find them uniting in a body,
praying us to adopt measures for the promotion of religion and piety,
or any moral object? They know it would be an improper interference;
and to say the best of this memorial, it is an act of imprudence,
which he hoped would receive no countenance from the house.

Mr. SENEY (of Md.) denied that there was anything unconstitutional in
the memorial, at least, if there was, it had escaped his attention,
and he should be obliged to the gentleman to point it out. Its only
object was, that congress should exercise their constitutional
authority, to abate the horrors of slavery, as far as they could:
Indeed, he considered that all altercation on the subject of
commitment was at an end, as the house had impliedly determined
yesterday that it should be committed.

Mr. BURKE (of S.C.) saw the disposition of the house, and he feared
it would be referred to a committee, maugre all their opposition; but
he must insist that it prayed for an unconstitutional measure. Did it
not desire congress to interfere and abolish the slave trade, while
the constitution expressly stipulated that congress should exercise no
such power? He was certain the commitment would sound an alarm, and
blow the trumpet of sedition in the Southern States. He was sorry to
see the petitioners paid more attention to than the constitution;
however, he would do his duty, and oppose the business totally; and if
it was referred to a committee, as mentioned yesterday, consisting of
a member from each State, and he was appointed, he would decline

Mr. SCOTT, (of Penn.) I can't entertain a doubt but the memorial is
strictly agreeable to the constitution: it respects a part of the duty
particularly assigned to us by that instrument, and I hope we may, be
inclined to take it into consideration. We can, at present, lay our
hands upon a small duty of ten dollars. I would take this, and if it
is all we can do, we must be content. But I am sorry that the framers
of the constitution did not go farther and enable us to interdict it
for good and all; for I look upon the slave-trade to be one of the
most abominable things on earth; and if there was neither God nor
devil, I should oppose it upon the principles of humanity and the law
of nature. I cannot, for my part, conceive how any person can be said
to acquire a property in another; is it by virtue of conquest? What
are the rights of conquest? Some have dared to advance this monstrous
principle, that the conqueror is absolute master of his conquest; that
he may dispose of it as his property, and treat it as he pleases; but
enough of those who reduce men to the state of transferable goods, or
use them like beasts of burden; who deliver them up as the property or
patrimony of another man. Let us argue on principles countenanced by
reason and becoming humanity; the petitioners view the subject in a
religious light, but I do not stand in need of religious motives to
induce me to reprobate the traffic in human flesh; other
considerations weigh with me to support the commitment of the
memorial, and to support every constitutional measure likely to bring
about its total abolition. Perhaps, in our legislative capacity, we
can go no further than to impose a duty of ten dollars, but I do not
know how far I might go, if I was one of the judges of the United
States, and those people were to come before me and claim their
emancipation; but I am sure I would go as far as I could.

Mr. JACKSON (of Ga.) differed with the gentleman last up, and supposed
the master had a qualified property in his slave; he said the contrary
doctrine would go to the destruction of every species of personal
service. The gentleman said he did not stand in need of religion to
induce him to reprobate slavery, but if he is guided by that evidence,
which the Christian system is founded upon, he will find that religion
is not against it; he will see, from Genesis to Revelation, the
current setting strong that way. There never was a government on the
face of the earth, but what permitted slavery. The purest sons of
freedom in the Grecian republics, the citizens of Athens and
Lacedaemon all held slaves. On this principle the nations of Europe
are associated; it is the basis of the feudal system. But suppose all
this to have been wrong, let me ask the gentleman, if it is policy to
bring forward a business at this moment, likely to light up a flame of
civil discord, for the people of the Southern States will resist one
tyranny as soon as another; the other parts of the continent may bear
them down by force of arms, but they will never suffer themselves to
be divested of their property without a struggle. The gentleman says,
if he was a federal judge, he does not know to what length he would go
in emancipating these people; but, I believe his judgment would be of
short duration in Georgia; perhaps even the existence of such a judge
might be in danger.

Mr. SHERMAN (of Conn.) could see no difficulty in committing the
memorial; because it was probable the committee would understand their
business, and perhaps they might bring in such a report as would be
satisfactory to gentlemen on both sides of the House.

Mr. BALDWIN (of Ga.) was sorry the subject had ever been brought
before Congress, because it was of a delicate nature, as it respected
some of the States. Gentlemen who had been present at the formation of
this Constitution, could not avoid the recollection of the pain and
difficulty which the subject caused in that body; the members from the
Southern States were so tender upon this point, that they had well
nigh broken up without coming to any determination; however, from the
extreme desire of preserving the Union, and obtaining an efficient
government, they were induced mutually, to concede, and the
Constitution jealously guarded what they agreed to. If gentlemen look
over the footsteps of that body, they will find the greatest degree
of caution used to imprint them, so as not to be easily eradicated;
but the moment we go to jostle on that ground, said he, I fear we
shall feel it tremble under our feet. Congress have no power to
interfere with the importation of slaves, beyond what is given in the
9th section of the first article of the Constitution; every thing else
is interdicted to them in the strongest terms. If we examine the
Constitution, we shall find the expressions, relative to this subject,
cautiously expressed, and more punctiliously guarded than any other
part. "The migration or importation of such persons, shall not be
prohibited by Congress." But lest this should not have secured the
object sufficiently, it is declared in the same section, "That no
capitation or direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the
census;" this was intended to prevent Congress from laying any special
tax upon negro slaves, as they might, in this way, so burthen the
possessors of them, as to induce a general emancipation. If we go on
to the 5th article, we shall find the 1st and 5th clauses of the 9th
section of the 1st article restrained from being altered before the
year 1808.

Gentlemen have said, that this petition does not pray for an abolition
of the slave-trade; I think, sir, it prays for nothing else, and
therefore we have no more to do with it, than if it prayed us to
establish an order of nobility, or a national religion.

Mr. SYLVESTER (of N.Y.) said that he had always been in the habit of
respecting the society called Quakers; he respected them for their
exertions in the cause of humanity, but he thought the present was not
a time to enter into a consideration of the subject, especially as he
conceived it to be a business in the province of the State

Mr. LAWRANCE (of N.Y.) observed that the subject would undoubtedly
come under the consideration of the house; and he thought, that as it
was now before them, that the present time was as proper as any; he
was therefore for committing the memorial; and when the prayer of it
had been properly examined, they could see how far Congress may
constitutionally interfere; as they knew the limits of their power on
this, as well as on every other occasion, there was no just
apprehension to be entertained that they would go beyond them. Mr.
Smith (of S.C.) insisted that it was not in the power of the House to
brunt the prayer of the petition, which event to the total abolishment
of the slave-trade, and it was therefore unnecessary to commit it. He
observed, that in the Southern States, difficulties had arisen on
adopting the Constitution, inasmuch as it was apprehended, that
Congress might take measures under it for abolishing the slave-trade.

Perhaps the petitioners, when they applied to this House, did not
think their object unconstitutional, but now they are told that if is,
they will be satisfied with the answer, and press it no further. If
their object had been for Congress to lay a duty of ten dollars per
head on the importation of slaves, they would have said so, but that
does not appear to have been the case; the commitment of the petition,
on that ground, cannot be contended; if they will not be content with
that, shall it be committed to investigate facts? The petition speaks
of none; for what purpose then shall it be committed? If gentlemen can
assign no good reason for the measure, they will not support it, when
they are told that it will create great jealousies and alarm in the
Southern States; for I can assure them, that there is no point on
which they are more jealous and suspicious, than on a business with
which they think the government has nothing to do.

When we entered into this Confederacy, we did it from political, not
from moral motives, and I do not think my constituents want to learn
morals from the petitioners; I do not believe they want improvement in
their moral system; if they do, they can get it at home.

The gentleman from Georgia, has justly stated the jealousy of the
Southern States. On entering into this government, they apprehended
that the other States, not knowing the necessity the citizens of the
Southern States were under to hold this species of property, would,
from motives of humanity and benevolence, be led to vote for a general
emancipation; and had they not seen that the Constitution provided
against the effect of such a disposition, I may be bold to say, they
never would have adopted it. And notwithstanding all the calumny's
with which some gentlemen have viewed the subject, they will find,
that the discussion alone will create great alarm. We have been told,
that if the discussion will create alarm, we ought to have avoided it,
by saying nothing; but it was not for that purpose that we were sent
here; we look upon this measure as an attack upon the palladium of the
property of our country; it is therefore our duty to oppose it by
every means in our power. Gentlemen should consider that when we
entered into a political connexion with the other States, that this
property was there; it was acquired under a former government,
conformably to the laws and Constitution; therefore anything that will
tend to deprive them of that property, must be an ex post facto law,
and as such is forbid by our political compact.

I said the States would never have entered into the confederation,
unless their property had been guaranteed to them, for such is the
state of agriculture in that county, that without slaves it must be
depopulated. Why will these people then make use of arguments to
induce the slave to turn his hand against his master? We labor under
difficulties enough from the ravages of the late war. A gentleman can
hardly come from that country, with a servant or two, either to this
place or Philadelphia, but what there are persons trying to seduce his
servants to leave him; and, when they have done this, the poor
wretches are obliged to rob their master in order to obtain a
subsistence; all those, therefore, who are concerned in this
seduction, are accessaries to the robbery.

The reproaches which they cast upon the owners of negro property, is
charging them with the want of humanity; I believe the proprietors are
persons of as much humanity as any part of the continent and are as
conspicuous for their good morals as their neighbors. It was said
yesterday, that the Quakers were a society known to the laws, and the
Constitution, but they are no more so than other religious societies;
they stood exactly in the same situation; their memorial, therefore,
relates to a matter in which they are no more interested than any
other sect, and can only be considered as a piece of advice; it is
customary to refer a piece of advice to a committee, but if it is
supposed to pray for what they think a moral purpose, is that
sufficient to induce us to commit it? What may appear a moral virtue
in their eyes, may not be so in reality. I have heard of a sect of
Shaking Quakers, who, I presume, suppose their tenets of a moral
tendency; I am informed one of them forbids to intermarry, yet in
consequence of their shakings and concussions, you may see them with a
numerous offspring about them. Now, if these people were to petition
Congress to pass a law prohibiting matrimony, I ask, would gentlemen
agree to refer such a petition? I think if they would reject one of
that nature, as improper, they ought also to reject this.

Mr. PAGE (of Va.) was in favor of the commitment; he hoped that the
designs of the respectable memorialists would not be stopped at the
threshold, in order to preclude a fair discussion of the prayer of the
memorial. He observed that gentlemen had founded their arguments upon
a misrepresentation; for the object of the memorial was not declared
to be the total abolition, of the slave trade; but that Congress would
consider, whether it be not in reality within their power to exercise
justice and mercy, which, if adhered to, they cannot doubt must
produce the abolition of the slave trade. If then the prayer contained
nothing unconstitutional, he trusted the meritorious effort would not
be frustrated. With respect to the alarm that was apprehended, he
conjectured there was none; but there might be just cause, if the
memorial was not taken into consideration. He placed himself in the
case of a slave, and said, that on hearing that Congress had refused
to listen to the decent suggestions of a respectable part of the
community, he should infer, that the general government (from which
was expected great good would result to every class of citizens) had
shut their ears against the voice of humanity, and he should despair
of any alleviation of the miseries he and his posterity had in
prospect; if anything could induce him to rebel, it must be a stroke
like this, impressing on his mind all the horrors of despair. But if
he was told, that application was made in his behalf and that Congress
were willing to hear what could be urged in favor of discouraging the
practice of importing his fellow-wretches, he would trust in their
justice and humanity, and wait the decision patiently. He presumed
that these unfortunate people would reason in the same way; and he,
therefore, conceived the most likely way to prevent danger, was to
commit the petition. He lived in a State which had the misfortune of
having in her bosom a great number of slaves, he held many of them
himself, and was as much interested in the business, he believed, as
any gentleman in South Carolina or Georgia, yet, if he was determined
to hold them in eternal bondage, he should feel no uneasiness or alarm
on account of the present measure, because he should rely upon the
virtue of Congress, that they would not exercise any unconstitutional

Mr. MADISON (of Va.) The debate has taken a serious turn, and it will
be owing to this alone if an alarm is created; for had the memorial
been treated in the usual way, it would have been considered as a
matter of course, and a report might have been made, so as to have
given general satisfaction.

If there was the slightest tendency by the commitment to break in upon
the Constitution, he would object to it; but he did not see upon what
ground such an event was to be apprehended. The petition prayed, in
general terms, for the interference of Congress, so far as they were
constitutionally authorized; but even if its prayer was, in some
degree, unconstitutional, it might be committed, as was the case on
Mr. Churchman's petition, one part of which was supposed to apply for
an unconstitutional interference by the general government.

He admitted that Congress was restricted by the Constitution from
taking measures to abolish the slave trade; yet there were a variety
of ways by which they could countenance the abolition, and they might
make some regulations respecting the introduction of them into the new
States, to be formed out of the Western Territory, different from what
they could in the old settled States. He thought the object well
worthy of consideration.

Mr. GERRY (of Mass.) thought the interference of Congress fully
compatible with the Constitution, and could not help lamenting the
miseries to which the natives of Africa were exposed by this inhuman
commerce; and said that he never contemplated the subject, without
reflecting what his own feelings would be, in case himself, his
children, or friends, were placed in the same deplorable
circumstances. He then adverted to the flagrant acts of cruelty which
are committed in carrying on that traffic; and asked whether it can be
supposed, that Congress has no power to prevent such transactions? He
then referred to the Constitution, and pointed out the restrictions
laid on the general government respecting the importation of slaves.
It was not, he presumed, in the contemplation of any gentleman in this
house to violate that part of the Constitution; but that we have a
right to regulate this business, is as clear as that we have any
rights whatever; nor has the contrary been shown by any person who has
spoken on the occasion. Congress can, agreeable to the Constitution,
lay a duty of ten dollars on imported slaves; they may do this
immediately. He made a calculation of the value of the slaves in the
Southern States, and supposed they might be worth ten millions of
dollars; Congress have a right, if they see proper, to make a proposal
to the Southern States to purchase the whole of them, and their
resources in the Western Territory may furnish them with means. He did
not intend to suggest a measure of this kind, he only instanced these
particulars, to show that Congress certainly have a right to
intermeddle in the business. He thought that no objection had been
offered, of any force, to prevent the commitment of the memorial.

Mr. BOUDINOT (of N.J.) had carefully examined the petition, and found
nothing like what was complained of by gentlemen, contained in it; he,
therefore, hoped they would withdraw their opposition, and suffer it
to be committed.

Mr. SMITH (of S.C.) said, that as the petitioners had particularly
prayed Congress to take measures for the annihilation of the slave
trade, and that was admitted on all hands to be beyond their power,
and as the petitioners would not be gratified by a tax of ten dollars
per head, which was all that was within their power, there was, of
consequence, no occasion for committing it.

Mr. STONE (of Md.) thought this memorial a thing of course; for there
never was a society, of any considerable extent, which did not
interfere with the concerns of other people, and this kind of
interference, whenever it has happened, has never failed to deluge the
country in blood: on this principle he was opposed to the commitment.

The question on the commitment being about to be put, the yeas and
nays were called for, and are as follows:--

Yeas.--Messrs. Ames, Benson, Boudinot, Brown, Cadwallader, Clymer,
Fitzsimons, Floyd, Foster, Gale, Gerry, Gilman, Goodhue, Griffin,
Grout, Hartley, Hathorne, Heister, Huntington, Lawrance, Lee, Leonard,
Livermore, Madison, Moore, Muhlenberg, Page, Parker, Partridge,
Renssellaer, Schureman, Scott, Sedgwick, Seney, Sherman, Sinnickson,
Smith of Maryland, Sturges, Thatcher, Trumbull, Wadsworth, White, and

Noes.--Messrs. Baldwin, Bland, Bourke, Coles, Huger, Jackson, Mathews,
Sylvester, Smith of S.C., Stone, and Tucker--11.

Whereupon it was determined in the affirmative; and on motion, the
petition of the Society of Friends, at New York, and the memorial from
the Pennsylvania Society, for the abolition of slavery, were also
referred to a committee.

_Debate on Committee's Report, March 1790._


Mr. TUCKER moved to modify the first paragraph by striking out all the
words after the word opinion, and to insert the following: that the
several memorials proposed to the consideration of this house, a
subject on which its interference would be unconstitutional, and even
its deliberations highly injurious to some of the States in the Union.

Mr. JACKSON rose and observed, that he had been silent on the subject
of the reports coming before the committee, because he wished the
principles of the resolutions to be examined fairly, and to be decided
on their true grounds. He was against the propositions generally, and
would examine the policy, the justice and the use of them, and he
hoped, if he could make them appear in the same light to others as
they did to him by fair argument, that the gentlemen in opposition
were not so determined in their opinions as not to give up their
present sentiments.

With respect to the policy of the measure, the situation of the slaves
here, their situation in their native States, and the disposal of them
in case of emancipation, should be considered. That slavery was an
evil habit, he did not mean to controvert; but that habit was already
established, and there were peculiar situations in countries which
rendered that habit necessary. Such situations the States of South
Carolina and Georgia were in--large tracts of the most fertile lands
on the continent remained uncultivated for the want of population. It
was frequently advanced on the floor of Congress, how unhealthy those
climates were, and how impossible it was for northern constitutions to
exist there. What, he asked, is to be done with this uncultivated
territory? Is it to remain a waste? Is the rice trade to be banished
from our coasts? Are Congress willing to deprive themselves of the
revenue arising from that trade, and which is daily increasing, and to
throw this great advantage into the hands of other countries?

Let us examine the use or the benefit of the resolutions contained in
the report. I call upon gentlemen to give me one single instance in
which they can be of service. They are of no use to Congress. The
powers of that body are already defined, and those powers cannot be
amended, confirmed or diminished by ten thousand resolutions. Is not
the first proposition of the report fully contained in the
Constitution? Is not that the guide and rule of this legislature. A
multiplicity of laws is reprobated in any society, and tend but to
confound and perplex. How strange would a law appear which was to
confirm a law; and how much more strange must it appear for this body
to pass resolutions to confirm the Constitution under which they sit!
This is the case with others of the resolutions.

A gentleman from Maryland (Mr. STONE,) very properly observed, that
the Union had received the different States with all their ill habits
about them. This was one of these habits established long before the
Constitution, and could not now be remedied. He begged Congress to
reflect on the number on the continent who were opposed to this
Constitution, and on the number which yet remained in the Southern
States. The violation of this compact they would seize on with
avidity; they would make a handle of it to cover their designs against
the government, and many good federalists, who would be injured by the
measure, would be induced to join them: his heart was truly federal,
and it always had been so, and he wished those designs frustrated. He
begged Congress to beware before they went too far: he called on them
to attend to the interests of two whole States, as well as to the
memorials of a society of Quakers, who came forward to blow the
trumpet of sedition, and to destroy that Constitution which they had
not in the least contributed by personal service or supply to

He seconded Mr. TUCKER'S motion.

Mr. SMITH (of S.C.) said, the gentlemen from Massachusetts, (Mr.
GERRY,) had declared that it was the opinion of the select committee,
of which he was a member, that the memorial of the Pennsylvania
society, required Congress to violate the Constitution. It was not
less astonishing to see Dr. FRANKLIN taking the lead in a business
which looks so much like a persecution of the Southern inhabitants,
when he recollected the parable he had written some time ago, with a
view of showing the impropriety of one set of men persecuting others
for a difference of opinion. The parable was to this effect: an old
traveller, hungry and weary, applied to the patriarch Abraham for a
night's lodging. In conversation, Abraham discovered that the stranger
differed with him on religious points, and turned him out of doors. In
the night God appeared unto Abraham, and said, where is the stranger?
Abraham answered, I found that he did not worship the true God, and so
I turned him out of doors. The Almighty thus rebuked the patriarch:
Have I borne with him three-score and ten years, and couldst thou not
bear with him one night? Has the Almighty, said Mr. SMITH, borne with
us for more than three-score years and ten: he has even made our
country opulent, and shed the blessings of affluence and prosperity on
our land, notwithstanding all its slaves, and must we now be ruined on
account of the tender consciences of a few scrupulous individuals who
differ from us on this point?

Mr. BOUDINOT agreed with the general doctrines of Mr. S., but could
not agree that the clause in the Constitution relating to the want of
power in Congress to prohibit the importation of such persons as any
of the States, _now existing_, shall think proper to admit, prior to
the year 1808, and authorizing a tax or duty on such importation not
exceeding ten dollars for each person, did not extend to negro slaves.
Candor required that he should acknowledge that this was the express
design of the Constitution, and therefore Congress could not interfere
in prohibiting the importation or promoting the emancipation of them,
prior to that period. Mr. BOUDINOT observed, that he was well informed
that the tax or duty of ten dollars was provided, instead of the five
per cent ad valorem, and was so expressly understood by all parties in
the Convention; that therefore it was the interest and duty of
Congress to impose this tax, or it would not be doing justice to the
States, or equalizing the duties throughout the Union. If this was not
done, merchants might bring their whole capitals into this branch of
trade, and save paying any duties whatever. Mr. BOUDINOT observed,
that the gentleman had overlooked the prophecy of St. Peter, where he
foretells that among other damnable heresies, "Through covetousness
shall they with feigned words make merchandize of you."

[NOTE.--This petition, with others of a similar object, was committed
to a select committee; that committee made a report; the report was
referred to a committee of the whole House, and discussed on four
successive days; it was then reported to the House with amendments,
and by the House ordered to be inscribed in its Journals, and then
laid on the table.

That report, as amended in committee, is in the following words:

The committee to whom were referred sundry memorials from the people
called Quakers, and also a memorial from the Pennsylvania Society for
promoting the abolition of slavery, submit the following report, (as
amended in committee of the whole.)

"First: That the migration or importation of such persons as any of
the States now existing shall think proper to admit, cannot be
prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808."

"Secondly: That Congress have no power to interfere in the
emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them, within any of the
States; it remaining with the several States alone to provide any
regulations therein which humanity and true policy may require."

"Thirdly: That Congress have authority to restrain the citizens of the
United States from carrying on the African Slave trade, for the
purpose of supplying foreigners with slaves, and of providing by
proper regulations for the humane treatment, during their passage, of
slaves imported by the said citizens into the States admitting such

"Fourthly: That Congress have also authority to prohibit foreigners
from fitting out vessels in any part of the United States for
transporting persons from Africa to any foreign port."]







Friends of Freedom and Emancipation in the U. States.

At the Tenth Anniversary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, held in
the city of New-York, May 7th, 1844,--after grave deliberation, and a
long and earnest discussion,--it was decided, by a vote of nearly
three to one of the members present, that fidelity to the cause of
human freedom, hatred of oppression, sympathy for those who are held
in chains and slavery in this republic, and allegiance to God, require
that the existing national compact should be instantly dissolved; that
secession from the government is a religious and political duty; that
the motto inscribed on the banner of Freedom should be, NO UNION WITH
SLAVEHOLDERS; that it is impracticable for tyrants and the enemies of
tyranny to coalesce and legislate together for the preservation of
human rights, or the promotion of the interests of Liberty; and that
revolutionary ground should be occupied by all those who abhor the
thought of doing evil that good may come, and who do not mean to
compromise the principles of Justice and Humanity.

A decision involving such momentous consequences, so well calculated
to startle the public mind, so hostile to the established order of
things, demands of us, as the official representatives of the American
Society, a statement of the reasons which led to it. This is due not
only to the Society, but also to the country and the world.

It is declared by the American people to be a self-evident truth,
"that all men are created equal; that they are endowed BY THEIR
CREATOR with certain inalienable rights; that among these are _life_,
LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness." It is further maintained by
them, that "all governments derive their just powers from the consent
of the governed;" that "whenever any form of government becomes
destructive of human rights, it is the right of the people to alter or
to abolish it, and institute a new government, laying its foundation
on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them
shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." These
doctrines the patriots of 1776 sealed with their blood. They would not
brook even the menace of oppression. They held that there should be no
delay in resisting, at whatever cost or peril, the first encroachments
of power on their liberties. Appealing to the great Ruler of the
universe for the rectitude of their course, they pledged to each other
"their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor," to conquer or
perish in their struggle to be free.

For the example which they set to all people subjected to a despotic
sway, and the sacrifices which they made, their descendants cherish
their memories with gratitude, reverence their virtues, honor their
deeds, and glory in their triumphs.

It is not necessary, therefore, for us to prove that a state of
slavery is incompatible with the dictates of reason and humanity; or
that it is lawful to throw off a government which is at war with the
sacred rights of mankind.

We regard this as indeed a solemn crisis, which requires of every man
sobriety of thought, prophetic forecast, independent judgment,
invincible determination, and a sound heart. A revolutionary step is
one that should not be taken hastily, nor followed under the influence
of impulsive imitation. To know what spirit they are of--whether they
have counted the cost of the warfare--what are the principles they
advocate--and how they are to achieve their object--is the first duty
of revolutionists.

But, while circumspection and prudence are excellent qualities in
every great emergency, they become the allies of tyranny whenever they
restrain prompt, bold and decisive action against it.

We charge upon the present national compact, that it was formed at the
expense of human liberty, by a profligate surrender of principle, and
to this hour is cemented with human blood.

We charge upon the American Constitution, that it contains provisions,
and enjoins duties, which make it unlawful for freemen to take the
oath of allegiance to it, because they are expressly designed to favor
a slaveholding oligarchy, and, consequently, to make one portion of
the people a prey to another.

We charge upon the existing national government, that it is an
insupportable despotism, wielded by a power which is superior to all
legal and constitutional restraints--equally indisposed and unable to
protect the lives or liberties of the people--the prop and safeguard
of American slavery.

These charges we proceed briefly to establish:

1. It is admitted by all men of intelligence,--or if it be denied in
any quarter, the records of our national history settle the question
beyond doubt,--that the American Union was effected by a guilty
compromise between the free and slaveholding States; in other words,
by immolating the colored population on the altar of slavery, by
depriving the North of equal rights and privileges, and by
incorporating the slave system into the government. In the expressive
and pertinent language of scripture, it was "a covenant with death,
and an agreement with hell"--null and void before God, from the first
hour of its inception--the framers of which were recreant to duty, and
the supporters of which are equally guilty.

It was pleaded at the time of the adoption, it is pleaded now, that,
without such a compromise there could have been no union; that,
without union, the colonies would have become an easy prey to the
mother country; and, hence, that it was an act of necessity,
deplorable indeed when viewed alone, but absolutely indispensable to
the safety of the republic.

To this we reply: The plea is as profligate as the act was tyrannical.
It is the jesuitical doctrine, that the end sanctifies the means. It
is a confession of sin, but the denial of any guilt in its
perpetration. It is at war with the government of God, and subversive
of the foundations of morality. It is to make lies our refuge, and
under falsehood to hide ourselves, so that we may escape the
overflowing scourge. "Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, Judgment
will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet; and the hail
shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the
hiding place." Moreover, "because ye trust in oppression and
perverseness, and stay thereon; therefore this iniquity shall be to
you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose
breaking cometh suddenly at an instant. And he shall break it as the
breaking of the potter's vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not

This plea is sufficiently broad to cover all the oppression and
villainy that the sun has witnessed in his circuit, since God said,
"Let there be light." It assumes that to be practicable, which is
impossible, namely, that there can be freedom with slavery, union with
injustice, and safety with bloodguiltiness. A union of virtue with
pollution is the triumph of licentiousness. A partnership between
right and wrong, is wholly wrong. A compromise of the principles of
Justice, is the deification of crime.

Better that the American Union had never been formed, than that it
should have been obtained at such a frightful cost! If they were
guilty who fashioned it, but who could not foresee all its frightful
consequences, how much more guilty are they, who, in full view of all
that has resulted from it, clamor for its perpetuity! If it was sinful
at the commencement, to adopt it on the ground of escaping a greater
evil, is it not equally sinful to swear to support it for the same
reason, or until, in process of time, it be purged from its

The fact is, the compromise alluded to, instead of effecting a union,
rendered it impracticable; unless by the term union we are to
understand the absolute reign of the slaveholding power over the whole
country, to the prostration of Northern rights. In the just use of
words, the American Union is and always has been a sham--an imposture.
It is an instrument of oppression unsurpassed in the criminal history
of the world. How then can it be innocently sustained? It is not
certain, it is not even probable, that if it had not been adopted, the
mother country would have reconquered the colonies. The spirit that
would have chosen danger in preference to crime,--to perish with
justice rather than live with dishonor,--to dare and suffer whatever
might betide, rather than sacrifice the rights of one human
being,--could never have been subjugated by any mortal power. Surely
it is paying a poor tribute to the valor and devotion of our
revolutionary fathers in the cause of liberty, to say that, if they
had sternly refused to sacrifice their principles, they would have
fallen an easy prey to the despotic power of England.

II. The American Constitution is the exponent of the national compact.
We affirm that it is an instrument which no man can innocently bind
himself to support, because its anti-republican and anti-Christian
requirements are explicit and peremptory; at least, so explicit that,
in regard to all the clauses pertaining to slavery, they have been
uniformly understood and enforced in the same way, by all the courts
and by all the people; and so peremptory, that no individual
interpretation or authority can set them aside with impunity. It is
not a ball of clay, to be moulded into any shape that party
contrivance or caprice may choose it to assume. It is not a form of
words, to be interpreted in any manner, or to any extent, or for the
accomplishment of any purpose, that individuals in office under it may
determine. _It means precisely what those who framed and adopted it
meant_--NOTHING MORE, NOTHING LESS, _as a matter of bargain and
compromise_. Even if it can be construed to mean something else,


Back to Full Books