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

Part 20 out of 20

without violence to its language, such construction is not to be
tolerated _against the wishes of either party_. No just or honest use
of it can be made, in opposition to the plain intention of its
framers, _except to declare the contract at an end, and to refuse to
serve under it_.

To the argument, that the words "slaves" and "slavery" are not to be
found in the Constitution, and therefore that it was never intended to
give any protection or countenance to the slave system, it is
sufficient to reply, that though no such words are contained in that
instrument, other words were used intelligently and specifically, TO
MEET THE NECESSITIES OF SLAVERY; and that these were adopted _in good
faith, to be observed until a constitutional change could be
effected_. On this point, as to the design of certain provisions, no
intelligent man can honestly entertain a doubt. If it be objected,
that though these provisions were meant to cover slavery, yet, as they
can fairly be interpreted to mean something exactly the reverse, it is
allowable to give to them such an interpretation, _especially as the
cause of freedom will thereby be promoted_--we reply, that this is to
advocate fraud and violence toward one of the contracting parties,
_whose co-operation was secured only by an express agreement and
understanding between them both, in regard to the clauses alluded to_;
and that such a construction, if enforced by pains and penalties,
would unquestionably lead to a civil war, in which the aggrieved party
would justly claim to have been betrayed, and robbed of their
constitutional rights.

Again, if it be said, that those clauses, being immoral, are null and
void--we reply, it is true they are not to be observed; but it is also
true that they are portions of an instrument, the support of which, AS
A WHOLE, is required by oath or affirmation; and, therefore, _because
IMMORALITY, no one can innocently swear to support the Constitution.

Again, if it be objected, that the Constitution was formed by the
people of the United States, in order to establish justice, to promote
the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves
and their posterity; and therefore, it is to be so construed as to
harmonize with these objects; we reply, again, that its language is
_not to be interpreted in a sense which neither of the contracting
parties understood_, and which would frustrate every design of their
alliance--to wit, _union at the expense of the colored population of
the country_. Moreover, nothing is more certain than that the preamble
alluded to never included, in the minds of those who framed it, _those
who were then pining in bondage_--for, in that case, a general
emancipation of the slaves would have instantly been proclaimed
throughout the United States. The words, "secure the blessings of
liberty to ourselves and our posterity," assuredly meant only the
white population. "To promote the general welfare," referred to their
own welfare exclusively. "To establish justice," was understood to be
for their sole benefit as slaveholders, and the guilty abettors of
slavery. This is demonstrated by other parts of the same instrument,
and by their own practice under it.

We would not detract aught from what is justly their due; but it is as
reprehensible to give them credit for _what they did not possess_, as
it is to rob them of what is theirs. It is absurd, it is false, it is
an insult to the common sense of mankind, to pretend that the
Constitution was intended to embrace the entire population of the
country under its sheltering wings; or that the parties to it were
actuated by a sense of justice and the spirit of impartial liberty; or
that it needs no alteration, but only a new interpretation, to make it
harmonize with the object aimed at by its adoption. As truly might it
be argued, that because it is asserted in the Declaration of
Independence, that all men are created equal, and endowed with an
inalienable right to liberty, therefore none of its signers were
slaveholders, and since its adoption, slavery has been banished from
the American soil! The truth is, our fathers were intent on securing
liberty to _themselves_, without being very scrupulous as to the means
they used to accomplish their purpose. They were not actuated by the
spirit of universal philanthropy; and though in words they recognized
occasionally the brotherhood of the human race, _in practice_ they
continually denied it. They did not blush to enslave a portion of
their fellow-men, and to buy and sell them as cattle in the market,
while they were fighting against the oppression of the mother country,
and boasting of their regard for the rights of man. Why, then, concede
to them virtues which they did not possess? _Why cling to the
falsehood, that they were no respecters of persons in the formation of
the government_?

Alas! that they had no more fear of God, no more regard for man, in
their hearts! "The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah [the
North and South] is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood,
and the city full of perverseness; for they say, the Lord hath
forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not."

We proceed to a critical examination of the American Constitution, in
its relations to slavery.

In ARTICLE 1, Section 9, it is declared--"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
one thousand eight hundred and eight; but a tax or duty may be imposed
on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person."

In this Section, it will be perceived, the phraseology is so guarded
as not to imply, _ex necessitate_, any criminal intent or inhuman
arrangement; and yet no one has ever had the hardihood or folly to
deny, that it was clearly understood by the contracting parties, to
mean that there should be no interference with the African slave
trade, on the part of the general government, until the year 1808.
For twenty years after the adoption of the Constitution, the citizens
of the United States were to be encouraged and protected in the
prosecution of that infernal traffic--in sacking and burning the
hamlets of Africa--in slaughtering multitudes of the inoffensive
natives on the soil, kidnapping and enslaving a still greater
proportion, crowding them to suffocation in the holds of the slave
ships, populating the Atlantic with their dead bodies, and subjecting
the wretched survivors to all the horrors of unmitigated bondage!
This awful covenant was strictly fulfilled; and though, since its
termination, Congress has declared the foreign slave traffic to be
piracy, yet all Christendom knows that the American flag, instead of
being the terror of the African slavers, has given them the most ample

The manner in which the 9th Section was agreed to, by the national
convention that formed the Constitution, is thus frankly avowed by the
Hon. LUTHER MARTIN[9] who was a prominent member of that body:

[Footnote 9: Speech before the Legislature of Maryland in 1787.]

"The Eastern States, notwithstanding their aversion to slavery, (!)
were _very willing to indulge the Southern States_ at least with a
temporary liberty to prosecute the slave trade, provided the Southern
States would, in their turn, _gratify_ them by laying no restriction
on navigation acts; and, after a very little time, the committee, by a
great majority, agreed on a report, _by which the general government
was to be prohibited from preventing the importation of slaves_ for a
limited time; and the restrictive clause relative to navigation acts
was to be omitted."

Behold the iniquity of this agreement! how sordid were the motives
which led to it! what a profligate disregard of justice and humanity,
on the part of those who had solemnly declared the inalienable right
of all men to be free and equal, to be a self-evident truth!

It is due to the national convention to say, that this Section was not
adopted "without considerable opposition." Alluding to it, Mr. MARTIN

"It was said that we had just assumed a place among independent
nations in consequence of our opposition to the attempts of Great
Britain to _enslave us_: that this opposition was grounded upon the
preservation of those rights to which God and nature has entitled us,
not in _particular_, but in _common with all the rest of mankind_;
that we had appealed to the Supreme Being for his assistance, as the
God of freedom, who could not but approve our efforts to preserve the
rights which he had thus imparted to his creatures; that now, when we
scarcely had risen from our knees, from supplicating his aid and
protection in forming our government over a free people, a government
formed pretendedly on the principles of liberty, and for its
preservation,--in that government to have a provision, not only
putting it out of its power to restrain and prevent the slave trade,
even encouraging that most infamous traffic, by giving the States
power and influence in the Union in proportion as they cruelly and
wantonly sport with the rights of their fellow-creatures, ought to be
considered as a solemn mockery of, and insult to, that God whose
protection we had then implored, and could not fail to hold us up in
detestation, and render us contemptible to every true friend of
liberty in the world. It was said it ought to be considered that
national crimes can only be and frequently are, punished in this world
by _national punishments_, and that the continuance of the slave
trade, and thus giving it a national sanction, and encouragement,
ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and
vengeance of Him who is equally Lord of all, and who views with equal
eye the poor _African slave_ and his _American master_![10]

[Footnote 10: How terribly and justly has this guilty nation been
scourged, since these words were spoken, on account of slavery and the
slave trade!]

"It was urged that, by this system, we were giving the general
government full and absolute power to regulate commerce, under which
general power it would have a right to restrain, or totally prohibit,
the slave trade: it must, therefore, appear to the world absurd and
disgraceful to the last degree that we should except from the exercise
of that power the only branch of commerce which is unjustifiable in
its nature, and contrary to the rights of mankind. That, on the
contrary, we ought rather to prohibit expressly, in our Constitution,
the further importation of slaves, and to authorize the general
government, from time to time, to make such regulations as should be
thought most advantageous for the gradual abolition of slavery, and
the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the States. That
slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism, and has a
tendency to destroy those principles on which it is supported, as it
lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind, and habituates us to
tyranny and oppression. It was further urged that, by this system of
government, every State is to be protected both from foreign invasion
and from domestic insurrections; that, from this consideration, it was
of the utmost importance it should have a power to restrain the
importation of slaves, since in proportion as the number of slaves
were increased in any State, in the same proportion the State is
weakened and exposed to foreign invasion or domestic insurrection; and
by so much less will it be able to protect itself against either, and
therefore will by so much the more, want aid from, and be a burden to,
the Union.

"It was further said, that, as in this system, we were giving the
general government a power, under the idea of national character, or
national interest, to regulate even our weights and measures, and have
prohibited all possibility of emitting paper money, and passing
insolvent laws, &c., it must appear still more extraordinary that we
should prohibit the government from interfering with the slave trade,
than which nothing could so materially affect both our national honor
and interest.

"These reasons influenced me, both on the committee and in convention,
most decidedly to oppose and vote against the clause, as it now makes
a part of the system."[11]

[Footnote 11: Secret Proceedings, p. 64.]

Happy had it been for this nation, had these solemn considerations
been heeded by the framers of the Constitution! But for the sake of
securing some local advantages, they chose to do evil that good might
come, and to make the end sanctify the means. They were willing to
enslave others, that they might secure their own freedom. They did
this deed deliberately, with their eyes open, with all the facts and
consequences arising therefrom before them, in violation of all their
heaven-attested declarations, and in atheistical distrust of the
overruling power of God. "The Eastern States were very willing to
_indulge_ the Southern States" in the unrestricted prosecution of
their piratical traffic, provided in return they could be _gratified_
by no restriction being laid on navigation acts!!--Had there been no
other provision of the Constitution justly liable to objection, this
one alone rendered the support of that instrument incompatible with
the duties which men owe to their Creator, and to each other. It was
the poisonous infusion in the cup, which, though constituting but a
very slight portion of its contents, perilled the life of every one
who partook of it.

If it be asked to what purpose are these animadversions, since the
clause alluded to has long since expired by its own limitation--we
answer, that, if at any time the foreign slave trade could be
_constitutionally_ prosecuted, it may yet be renewed, under the
Constitution, at the pleasure of Congress, whose prohibitory statute
is liable to be reversed at any moment, in the frenzy of Southern
opposition to emancipation. It is ignorantly supposed that the bargain
was, that the traffic _should cease_ in 1808; but the only thing
secured by it was, the _right_ of Congress (not any obligation) to
prohibit it at that period. If, therefore, Congress had not chosen to
exercise that right, _the traffic might have been prolonged
indefinitely under the Constitution._ The right to destroy any
particular branch of commerce, implies the right to re-establish it.
True, there is no probability that the African slave trade will ever
again be legalized by the national government; but no credit is due
the framers of the Constitution on this ground; for, while they threw
around it all the sanction and protection of the national character
and power for twenty years, _they set no bounds to its continuance by
any positive constitutional prohibition._

Again, the adoption of such a clause, and the faithful execution
of it, prove what was meant by the words of the preamble--"to form
a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity,
provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare,
and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our
posterity"--namely, that the parties to the Constitution regarded only
their own rights and interests, and never intended that its language
should be so interpreted as to interfere with slavery, or to make it
unlawful for one portion of the people to enslave another, _without an
express alteration in that instrument, in the manner therein set
forth._ While, therefore, the Constitution remains as it was
originally adopted, they who swear to support it are bound to comply
with all its provisions, as a matter of allegiance. For it avails
nothing to say, that some of those provisions are at war with the law
of God and the rights of man, and therefore are not obligatory.
Whatever may be their character, they are _constitutionally_
obligatory; and whoever feels that he cannot execute them, or swear to
execute them, without committing sin, has no other choice left than to
withdraw from the government, or to violate his conscience by taking
on his lips an impious promise. The object of the Constitution is not
to define _what is the law of God_, but WHAT IS THE WILL OF THE
PEOPLE--which will is not to be frustrated by an ingenious moral
interpretation, by those whom they have elected to serve them.

ARTICLE 1, Sect. 2, provides--"Representatives and direct taxes shall
be apportioned among the several States, which may be included within
this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be
determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including
those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not
taxed, _three-fifths of all other persons_."

Here, as in the clause we have already examined, veiled beneath a form
of words as deceitful as it is unmeaning in a truly democratic
government, is a provision for the safety, perpetuity and augmentation
of the slaveholding power--a provision scarcely less atrocious than
that which related to the African slave trade, and almost as
afflictive in its operation--a provision still in force, with no
possibility of its alteration, so long as a majority of the slave
States choose to maintain their slave system--a provision which, at
the present time, enables the South to have twenty-five additional
representatives in Congress on the score of property, while the North
is not allowed to have one--a provision which concedes to the
oppressed three-fifths of the political power which is granted to all
others, and then puts this power into the hands of their oppressors,
to be wielded by them for the more perfect security of their tyrannous
authority, and the complete subjugation of the non-slaveholding

Referring to this atrocious bargain, ALEXANDER HAMILTON remarked in
the New York Convention--

"The first thing objected to, is that clause which allows a
representation for three-fifths of the negroes. Much has been said of
the impropriety of representing men who have no will of their own:
whether this be _reasoning_ or _declamation_, (!!) I will not presume
to say. It is the _unfortunate_ situation of the Southern States to
have a great part of their population as well as _property_, in
blacks. The regulation complained of was one result of _the spirit of
accommodation_ which governed the Convention; and without this
considering some _peculiar advantages_ which we derive from them, it
is entirely JUST that they should be _gratified_.--The Southern States
possess certain staples, tobacco, rice, indigo, &c.--which must be
_capital_ objects in treaties of commerce with foreign nations; and
the advantage which they necessarily procure in these treaties will be
felt throughout all the States."

If such was the patriotism, such the love of liberty, such the
morality of ALEXANDER HAMILTON, what can be said of the character of
those who were far less conspicuous than himself in securing American
independence, and in framing the American Constitution?

Listen, now, to the opinions of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, respecting the
constitutional clause now under consideration:--

"'In outward show, it is a representation of persons in bondage; in
fact, it is a representation of their masters,--the oppressor
representing the oppressed.'--'Is it in the compass of human
imagination to devise a more perfect exemplification of the art of
committing the lamb to the tender custody of the wolf?'--'The
representative is thus constituted, not the friend, agent and trustee
of the person whom he represents, but the most inveterate of his
foes.'--'It was _one_ of the curses from that Pandora's box, adjusted
at the time, as usual, by a _compromise_, the whole advantage of which
inured to the benefit of the South, and to aggravate the burthens of
the North.'--'If there be a parallel to it in human history, it can
only be that of the Roman Emperors, who, from the days when Julius
Caesar substituted a military despotism in the place of a republic,
among the offices which they always concentrated upon themselves, was
that of tribune of the people. A Roman Emperor tribune of the people,
is an exact parallel to that feature in the Constitution of the United
States which makes the master the representative of his slave.'--'The
Constitution of the United States expressly prescribes that no title
of nobility shall be granted by the United States. The spirit of this
interdict is not a rooted antipathy to the grant of mere powerless
empty _titles_, but to titles of _nobility_; to the institution of
privileged orders of men. But what order of men under the most
absolute of monarchies, or the most aristocratic of republics, was
ever invested with such an odious and unjust privilege as that of the
separate and exclusive representation of less than half a million
owners of slaves, in the Hall of this House, in the chair of the
Senate, and in the Presidential mansion?'--'This investment of power
in the owners of one species of property concentrated in the highest
authorities of the nation, and disseminated through thirteen of the
twenty-six States of the Union, constitutes a privileged order of men
in the community, more adverse to the rights of all, and more
pernicious to the interests of the whole, than any order of nobility
ever known. To call government thus constituted a Democracy, is to
insult the understanding of mankind. To call it an Aristocracy, is to
do injustice to that form of government. Aristocracy is the government
of the _best_. Its standard qualification for accession to power is
_merit_, ascertained by popular election, recurring at short intervals
of time. If even that government is prone to degenerate into tyranny,
what must be the character of that form of polity in which the
standard qualification for access to power is wealth in the possession
of slaves? It is doubly tainted with the infection of riches and of
slavery. _There is no name in the language of national jurisprudence
that can define it_--no model in the records of ancient history, or in
the political theories of Aristotle, with which it can be likened. It
was introduced into the Constitution of the United States by an
equivocation--a representation of property under the name of persons.
Little did the members of the Convention from the free States imagine
or foresee what a sacrifice to Moloch was hidden under the mask of
this concession.'--'The House of Representatives of the U. States
consists of 223 members--all, by the _letter_ of the Constitution,
representatives only of _persons_, as 135 of them really are; but the
other 88, equally representing the _persons_ of their constituents, by
whom they are elected, also represent, under the name of _other
persons_, upwards of two and a half millions of _slaves_, held as the
_property_ of less than half a million of the white constituents, and
valued at twelve hundred millions of dollars. Each of these 88 members
represents in fact the whole of that mass of associated wealth, and
the persons and exclusive interests of its owners; all thus knit
together, like the members of a moneyed corporation, with a capital
not of thirty-five or forty or fifty, but of twelve hundred millions
of dollars, exhibiting the most extraordinary exemplification of the
anti-republican tendencies of associated wealth that the world ever
saw.'--'Here is one class of men, consisting of not more than
one-fortieth part of the whole people, not more than one-thirtieth
part of the free population, exclusively devoted to their personal
interests identified with their own as slaveholders of the same
associated wealth, and wielding by their votes, upon every question of
government or of public policy, two-fifths of the whole power of the
House. In the Senate of the Union, the proportion of the slaveholding
power is yet greater. By the influence of slavery, in the States where
the institution is tolerated, over their elections, no other than a
slaveholder can rise to the distinction of obtaining a seat in the
Senate; and thus, of the 52 members of the Federal Senate, 26 are
owners of slaves, and as effectively representatives of that interest
as the 88 member elected by them to the House.'--'By this process it
is that all political power in the States is absorbed and engrossed by
the owners of _slaves_, and the overruling policy of the States is
shaped to strengthen and consolidate their domination. The
legislative, executive, and judicial authorities are all in their
hands--the preservation, propagation, and perpetuation of the black
code of slavery--every law of the legislature becomes a link in the
chain of the slave; every executive act a rivet to his hapless fate;
every judicial decision a perversion of the human intellect to the
justification of _wrong_.'--'Its reciprocal operation upon the
government of the nation is, to establish an artificial majority in
the slave representation over that of the free people, in the American
Congress, and thereby to make the PRESERVATION, PROPAGATION, AND
GOVERNMENT.'--'The result is seen in the fact that, at this day, the
President of the United States, the President of the Senate, the
Speaker of the House of Representatives, and five out of nine of the
Judges of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the United States, are not
only citizens of slaveholding States, but individual slaveholders
themselves. So are, and constantly have been, with scarcely an
exception, all the members of both Houses of Congress from the
slaveholding States; and so are, in immensely disproportionate
numbers, the commanding officers of the army and navy; the officers of
the customs; the registers and receivers of the land offices, and the
post-masters throughout the slaveholding States.--The Biennial
Register indicates the birth-place of all the officers employed in the
government of the Union. If it were required to designate the owners
of this species of property among them, it would be little more than a
catalogue of slaveholders.'"

It is confessed by Mr. ADAMS, alluding to the national convention
that framed the Constitution, that "the delegation from the free
States, in their extreme anxiety to conciliate the ascendancy of the
Southern slaveholder, did listen to a _compromise between right and
wrong--between freedom and slavery_; of the ultimate fruits of which
they had no conception, but which already even now is urging the Union
to its inevitable ruin and dissolution, by a civil, servile, foreign
and Indian war, all combined in one; a war, the essential issue of
which will be between freedom and slavery, and in which the unhallowed
standard of slavery will be the desecrated banner of the North
American Union--that banner, first unfurled to the breeze, inscribed
with the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence."

Hence, to swear to support the Constitution of the United States, _as
it is_, is to make "a compromise between right and wrong," and to wage
war against human liberty. It is to recognize and honor as republican
legislators _incorrigible men-stealers_, MERCILESS TYRANTS, BLOOD
THIRSTY ASSASSINS, who legislate with deadly weapons about their
persons, such as pistols, daggers, and bowie-knives, with which they
threaten to murder any Northern senator or representative who shall
dare to stain their _honor_, or interfere with their rights! They
constitute a banditti more fierce and cruel than any whose atrocities
are recorded on the pages of history or romance. To mix with them on
terms of social or religious fellowship, is to indicate a low state of
virtue; but to think of administering a free government by their
co-operation, is nothing short of insanity.

Article 4, Section 2, declares,--"No person held to service or labor
in one State, _under the laws thereof_, escaping into another, shall,
in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from
such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party
to whom such service or labor may be due."

Here is a third clause, which, like the other two, makes no mention of
slavery or slaves, in express terms; and yet, like them, was
intelligently framed and mutually understood by the parties to the
ratification, and intended both to protect the slave system and to
restore runaway slaves. It alone makes slavery a national institution,
a national crime, and all the people who are not enslaved, the
body-guard over those whose liberties have been cloven down. This
agreement, too, has been fulfilled to the letter by the North.

Under the Mosaic dispensation it was imperatively commanded,--"Thou
shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from
his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in
that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh
him best: thou shalt not oppress him." The warning which the prophet
Isaiah gave to oppressing Moab was of a similar kind: "Take counsel,
execute judgment; make thy shadow as the night in the midst of the
noon-day; hide the outcasts; bewray not him that wandereth. Let mine
outcasts dwell with thee, Moab; be thou a covert to them from the face
of the spoiler." The prophet Obadiah brings the following charge
against treacherous Edom, which is precisely applicable to this guilty
nation:--"For thy violence against thy brother Jacob, shame shall come
over thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever. In the day that thou
stoodst on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away
captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast
lots upon Jerusalem, _even thou wast as one of them_. But thou
shouldst not have looked on the day of thy brother, in the day that he
became a stranger; neither shouldst thou have rejoiced over the
children of Judah, in the day of their destruction; neither shouldst
thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress; neither shouldst thou
have _stood in the cross-way, to cut off those of his that did
escape_; neither shouldst thou have _delivered up those of his that
did remain_, in the day of distress."

How exactly descriptive of this boasted republic is the impeachment of
Edom by the same prophet! "The pride of thy heart hath deceived thee,
thou whose habitation is high; that saith in thy heart, Who shall
bring me down to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle,
and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee
down, saith the Lord." The emblem of American pride and power is the
_eagle_, and on her banner she has mingled _stars_ with its _stripes_.
Her vanity, her treachery, her oppression, her self-exaltation, and
her defiance of the Almighty, far surpass the madness and wickedness
of Edom. What shall be her punishment? Truly, it may be affirmed of
the American people, (who live not under the Levitical but Christian
code, and whose guilt, therefore, is the more awful, and their
condemnation the greater,) in the language of another prophet--"They
all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.
That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh,
and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his
mischievous desire: _so they wrap it up_." Likewise of the colored
inhabitants of this land it may be said,--"This is a people robbed and
spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in
prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil,
and none saith, Restore."

By this stipulation, the Northern States are made the hunting ground
of slave-catchers, who may pursue their victims with blood-hounds, and
capture them with impunity wherever they can lay their robber hands
upon them. At least twelve or fifteen thousand runaway slaves are now
in Canada, exiled from their native land, because they could not find,
throughout its vast extent, a single road on which they could dwell in
safety, _in consequence of this provision of the Constitution_? How is
it possible, then, for the advocates of liberty to support a
government which gives over to destruction one-sixth part of the whole

It is denied by some at the present day, that the clause which has
been cited, was intended to apply to runaway slaves. This indicates,
either ignorance, or folly, or something worse. JAMES MADISON, as one
of the framers of the Constitution, is of some authority on this
point. Alluding to that instrument, in the Virginia convention, he

"Another clause _secures us that property which we now possess_. At
present, if any slave elopes to any of those States where slaves are
free, _he becomes emancipated by their laws_; for the laws of the
States are _uncharitable_ (!) to one another in this respect; but in
this constitution, 'No person held to service or labor in one State,
under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence
of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or
labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such
service or labor may be due.' THIS CLAUSE WAS EXPRESSLY INSERTED TO
than any that now exists_. No power is given to the general government
to interpose with respect to the property in slaves now held by the

In the same convention, alluding to the same clause, Gov. RANDOLPH

"Every one knows that slaves are held to service or labor. And, when
authority is given to owners of slaves to _vindicate their property_,
can it be supposed they can be deprived of it? If a citizen of this
State, in consequence of this clause, can take his runaway slave in
Maryland, can it be seriously thought that, after taking him and
bringing him home, he could be made free?"

It is objected, that slaves are held as property, and therefore, as
the clause refers to persons, it cannot mean slaves. But this is
criticism against fact. Slaves are recognized not merely as property,
but also as persons--as having a mixed character--as combining the
human with the brutal. This is paradoxical, we admit; but slavery is a
paradox--the American Constitution is a paradox--the American Union is
a paradox--the American Government is a paradox; and if any one of
these is to be repudiated on that ground, they all are. That it is the
duty of the friends of freedom to deny the binding authority of them
all, and to secede from them all, we distinctly affirm. After the
independence of this country had been achieved, the voice of God
exhorted the people, saying, "Execute true judgment, and show mercy
and compassion, every man to his brother: and oppress not the widow,
nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you
imagine evil against his brother in your heart. But they refused to
hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that
they should not hear; yea, they made their hearts as an adamant
stone." "Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord. Shall not
my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"

Whatever doubt may have rested on any honest mind, respecting the
meaning of the clause in relation to persons held to service or labor,
must have been removed by the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court
of the United States, in the case of Prigg versus the State of
Pennsylvania. By that decision, any Southern slave-catcher is
empowered to seize and convey to the South, without hindrance or
molestation on the part of the State, and without any legal process
duly obtained and served, any person or persons, irrespective of caste
or complexion, whom he may choose to claim as runaway slaves; and if,
when thus surprised and attacked, or on their arrival South, they
cannot prove by legal witnesses, that they are freemen, their doom is
sealed! Hence the free colored population of the North are specially
liable to become the victims of this terrible power, and all the other
inhabitants are at the mercy of prowling kidnappers, because there are
multitudes of white as well as black slaves on Southern plantations,
and slavery is no longer fastidious with regard to the color of its

As soon as that appalling decision of the Supreme Court was
enunciated, in the name of the Constitution, the people of the North
should have risen _en masse_, if for no other cause, and declared the
Union at an end; and they would have done so, if they had not lost
their manhood, and their reverence for justice and liberty.

In the 4th Sect. of Art. IV., the United States guarantee to protect
every State in the Union "against _domestic violence_." By the 8th
Section of Article I., Congress is empowered "to provide for calling
forth the militia to execute the laws of the Union, _suppress
insurrections_, and repel invasions." These provisions, however
strictly they may apply to cases of disturbance among the white
population, were adopted with special reference to the slave
population, for the purpose of keeping them in their chains by the
combined military force of the country; and were these repealed, and
the South left to manage her slaves as best she could, a servile
insurrection would ere long be the consequence, as general as it would
unquestionably be successful. Says Mr. Madison, respecting these

"On application of the legislature or executive, as the case may be,
the militia of the other States are to be called to suppress domestic
insurrections. Does this bar the States from calling forth their own
militia? No; but it gives them a _supplementary_ security to suppress
insurrections and domestic violence."

The answer to Patrick Henry's objection, as urged against the
Constitution in the Virginia convention, that there was no power left
to the _States_ to quell an insurrection of slaves, as it was wholly
vested in Congress, George Nicholas asked:--

"Have they it now? If they have, does the constitution take it away?
If it does, it must be in one of the three clauses which have been
mentioned by the worthy member. The first clause gives the general
government power to call them out when necessary. Does this take it
away from the States? No! but it _gives an additional security_; for,
beside the power in the State governments to use their own militia, it
will be _the duty of the general government_ to aid them WITH THE
STRENGTH OF THE UNION, when called for."

This solemn guaranty of security to the slave system, caps the climax
of national barbarity, and stains with human blood the garments of all
the people. In consequence of it, that system has multiplied its
victims from seven hundred thousand to nearly three millions--a vast
amount of territory has been purchased, in order to give it extension
and perpetuity--several new slave States have been admitted into the
Union--the slave trade has been made one of the great branches of
American commerce--the slave population, though over-worked, starved,
lacerated, branded, maimed, and subjected to every form of deprivation
and every species of torture, have been overawed and crushed,--or,
whenever they have attempted to gain their liberty by revolt, they
have been shot down and quelled by the strong arm of the national
government; as, for example, in the case of Nat Turner's insurrection
in Virginia, when the naval and military forces of the government were
called into active service. Cuban bloodhounds have been purchased with
the money of the people, and imported and used to hunt slave fugitives
among the everglades of Florida. A merciless warfare has been waged
for the extermination or expulsion of the Florida Indians, because
they gave succor to these poor hunted fugitives--a warfare which has
cost the nation several thousand lives, and forty millions of dollars.
But the catalogue of enormities is too long to be recapitulated in the
present address.

We have thus demonstrated that the compact between the North and the
South embraces every variety of wrong and outrage,--is at war with God
and man, cannot be innocently supported, and deserves to be
immediately annulled. In behalf of the Society which we represent, we
call upon all our fellow-citizens, who believe it is right to obey God
rather than man, to declare themselves peaceful revolutionists, and to
unite with us under the stainless banner of Liberty, having for its

It is pleaded that the Constitution provides for its own amendment;
and we ought to use the elective franchise to effect this object.
True, there is such a proviso; but, until the amendment be made, that
instrument is binding as it stands. Is it not to violate every moral
instinct, and to sacrifice principle to expediency, to argue that we
may swear to steal, oppress and murder by wholesale, because it may be
necessary to do so only for the time being, and because there is some
remote probability that the instrument which requires that we should
be robbers, oppressors and murderers, may at some future day be
amended in these particulars? Let us not palter with our consciences
in this manner--let us not deny that the compact was conceived in sin
and brought forth in iniquity--let us not be so dishonest, even to
promote a good object, as to interpret the Constitution in a manner
utterly at variance with the intentions and arrangements of the
contracting parties; but, confessing the guilt of the nation,
acknowledging the dreadful specifications in the bond, washing our
hands in the waters of repentance from all further participation in
this criminal alliance, and resolving that we will sustain none other
than a free and righteous government, let us glory in the name of
revolutionists, unfurl the banner of disunion, and consecrate our
talents and means to the overthrow of all that is tyrannical in the
land,--to the establishment of all that is free, just, true and
holy,--to the triumph of universal love and peace. If, in utter
disregard of the historical facts which have been cited, it is still
asserted, that the Constitution needs no amendment to make it a free
instrument, adapted to all the exigencies of a free people, and was
never intended to give any strength or countenance to the slave
system--the indignant spirit of insulted Liberty replies;--"What
though the assertion be true? Of what avail is a mere piece of
parchment? In itself, though it be written all over with words of
truth and freedom--Though its provisions be as impartial and just as
words can express, or the imagination paint--though it be as pure as
the Gospel, and breathe only the spirit of Heaven--it is powerless; it
has no executive vitality: it is a lifeless corpse, even though
beautiful in death. I am famishing for lack of bread! How is my
appetite relieved by holding up to my gaze a painted loaf? I am
manacled, wounded, bleeding, dying! What consolation is it to know,
that they who are seeking to destroy my life, profess in words to be
my friends?" If the liberties of the people have been betrayed--if
judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off, and
truth has fallen in the streets, and equity cannot enter--if the
princes of the land are roaring lions, the judges evening wolves, the
people light and treacherous persons, the priests covered with
pollution--if we are living under a frightful despotism, which scoffs
at all constitutional restraints, and wields the resources of the
nation to promote its own bloody purposes--tell us not that the forms
of freedom are still left to us! "Would such tameness and submission
have freighted the May-Flower for Plymouth Rock? Would it have
resisted the Stamp Act, the Tea Tax, or any of those entering wedges
of tyranny with which the British government sought to rive the
liberties of America? The wheel of the Revolution would have rusted on
its axle, if a spirit so weak had been the only power to give it
motion. Did our fathers say, when their rights and liberties were
infringed--"_Why, what is done cannot be undone_. That is the first
thought." No, it was the last thing they thought of: or, rather, it
never entered their minds at all. They sprang to the conclusion at
once--"_What is done_ SHALL _be undone_. That is our FIRST and ONLY

"Is water running in our veins? Do we remember still Old Plymouth
Rock, and Lexington, and famous Bunker Hill? The debt we owe our
fathers' graves? and to the yet unborn, Whose heritage ourselves must
make a thing of pride or scorn?

Gray Plymouth Rock hath yet a tongue, and Concord is not dumb; And
voices from our fathers' graves and from the future come: They call on
us to stand our ground--they charge us still to be Not only free from
chains ourselves, but foremost to make free!"

It is of little consequence who is on the throne, if there be behind
it a power mightier than the throne. It matters not what is the theory
of the government, if the practice of the government be unjust and
tyrannical. We rise in rebellion against a despotism incomparably more
dreadful than that which induced the colonists to take up arms against
the mother country; not on account of a three-penny tax on tea, but
because fetters of living iron are fastened on the limbs of millions
of our countrymen, and our most sacred rights are trampled in the
dust. As citizens of the State, we appeal to the State in vain for
protection and redress. As citizens of the United States, we are
treated as outlaws in one half of the country, and the national
government consents to our destruction. We are denied the right of
locomotion, freedom of speech, the right of petition, the liberty of
the press, the right peaceably to assemble together to protest against
oppression and plead for liberty--at least in thirteen States of the
Union. If we venture, as avowed and unflinching abolitionists, to
travel South of Mason and Dixon's line, we do so at the peril of our
lives. If we would escape torture and death, on visiting any of the
slave States, we must stifle our conscientious convictions, bear no
testimony against cruelty and tyranny, suppress the struggling
emotions of humanity, divest ourselves of all letters and papers
of an anti-slavery character, and do homage to the slaveholding
power--or run the risk of a cruel martyrdom! These are appalling
and undeniable facts. Three millions of the American people are
crushed under the American Union! They are held as slaves--trafficked
as merchandise--registered as goods and chattels! The government gives
them no protection--the government is their enemy--the government
keeps them in chains! There they lie bleeding--we are prostrate by
their side--in their sorrows and sufferings we participate--their
stripes are inflicted on our bodies, their shackles are fastened on
our limbs, their cause is ours! The Union which grinds them to the
dust rests upon us, and with them we will struggle to overthrow it!
The Constitution, which subjects them to hopeless bondage, is one that
we cannot swear to support! Our motto is, "NO UNION WITH
SLAVEHOLDERS," either religious or political. They are the fiercest
enemies of mankind, and the bitterest foes of God! We separate from
them not in anger, not in malice, not for a selfish purpose, not to do
them an injury, not to cease warning, exhorting, reproving them for
their crimes, not to leave the perishing bondman to his fate--O no!
But to clear our skirts of innocent blood--to give the oppressor no
countenance--to signify our abhorrence of injustice and cruelty--to
testify against an ungodly compact--to cease striking hands with
thieves and consenting with adulterers--to make no compromise with
tyranny--to walk worthily of our high profession--to increase our
moral power over the nation--to obey God and vindicate the Gospel of
his Son--to hasten the downfall of slavery in America, and throughout
the world!

We are not acting under a blind impulse. We have carefully counted the
cost of this warfare, and are prepared to meet its consequences. It
will subject us to reproach, persecution, infamy--it will prove a
fiery ordeal to all who shall pass through it--it may cost us our
lives. We shall be ridiculed as fools, scorned as visionaries, branded
as disorganizers, reviled as madmen, threatened and perhaps punished
as traitors. But we shall bide our time. Whether safety or peril,
whether victory or defeat, whether life or death be ours, believing
that our feet are planted on an eternal foundation, that our position
is sublime and glorious, that our faith in God is rational and
steadfast, that we have exceeding great and precious promises on which
to rely, THAT WE ARE IN THE RIGHT, we shall not falter nor be
dismayed, "though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be
carried into the midst of the sea,"--though our ranks be thinned to
the number of "three hundred men." Freemen! are you ready for the
conflict? Come what may, will you sever the chain that binds you to a
slaveholding government, and declare your independence? Up, then, with
the banner of revolution! Not to shed blood--not to injure the person
or estate of any oppressor--not by force and arms to resist any
law--not to countenance a servile insurrection--not to wield any
carnal weapons! No--ours must be a bloodless strife, excepting _our_
blood be shed--for we aim, as did Christ our leader, not to destroy
men's lives, but to save them--to overcome evil with good--to conquer
through suffering for righteousness' sake--to set the captive free by
the potency of truth!

Secede, then, from the government. Submit to its exactions, but pay
it no allegiance, and give it no voluntary aid. Fill no offices under
it. Send no senators or representatives to the National or State
legislature; for what you cannot conscientiously perform yourself, you
cannot ask another to perform as your agent. Circulate a declaration
of DISUNION FROM SLAVEHOLDERS, throughout the country. Hold mass
meetings--assemble in conventions--nail your banners to the mast!

Do you ask what can be done, if you abandon the ballot box? What did
the crucified Nazarene do without the elective franchise? What did
the apostles do? What did the glorious army of martyrs and confessors
do? What did Luther and his intrepid associates do? What can women
and children do? What has Father Matthew done for teetotalism? What
has Daniel O'Connell done for Irish repeal? "Stand, having your loins
girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of
righteousness," and arrayed in the whole armor of God!

The form of government that shall succeed the present government of
the United States, let time determine. It would he a waste of time to
argue that question, until the people are regenerated and turned from
their iniquity. Ours is no anarchical movement, but one of order and
obedience. In ceasing from oppression, we establish liberty. What is
now fragmentary, shall in due time be crystallized, and shine like a
gem set in the heavens, for a light to all coming ages.

Finally--we believe that the effect of this movement will be,--First,
to create discussion and agitation throughout the North; and these
will lead to a general perception of its grandeur and importance.

Secondly, to convulse the slumbering South like an earthquake, and
convince her that her only alternative is, to abolish slavery, or be
abandoned by that power on which she now relies for safety.

Thirdly, to attack the slave power in its most vulnerable point, and
to carry the battle to the gate.

Fourthly, to exalt the moral sense, increase the moral power, and
invigorate the moral constitution of all who heartily espouse it.

We reverently believe that, in withdrawing from the American Union, we
have the God of justice with us. We know that we have our enslaved
countrymen with us. We are confident that all free hearts will be
with us. We are certain that tyrants and their abettors will be
against us.

In behalf of the Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery

WM. LLOYD GARRISON, _President_.

WENDELL PHILLIPS, }_Secretaries_.

Boston, May 20, 1844.


BOSTON, 4th July, 1844.

_To His Excellency George N. Briggs:_

SIR--Many years since, I received from the Executive of the
Commonwealth a commission as Justice of the Peace. I have held the
office that it conferred upon me till the present time, and have found
it a convenience to myself, and others. It might continue to be so,
could I consent longer to hold it. But paramount considerations
forbid, and I herewith transmit to you my commission, respectfully
asking you to accept my resignation.

While I deem it a duty to myself to take this step, I feel called on
to state the reasons that influence me.

In entering upon the duties of the office in question, I complied with
the requirements of the law, by taking an oath "_to support the
Constitution of the United States_." I regret that I ever took that
oath. Had I then as maturely considered its full import, and the
obligations under which it is understood, and meant to lay those who
take it, as I have done since, I certainly never would have taken it,
seeing, as I now do, that the Constitution of the United States
contains provisions calculated and intended to foster, cherish, uphold
and perpetuate _slavery_. It pledges the country to guard and protect
the slave system so long as the slaveholding States choose to retain
it. It regards the slave code as lawful in the States which enact it.
Still more, "it has done that, which, until its adoption, was never
before done for African slavery. It took it out of its former category
of municipal law and local life; adopted it as a national institution,
spread around it the broad and sufficient shield of national law, and
thus gave to slavery a national existence." Consequently, the oath to
support the Constitution of the United States is a solemn promise to
do that which is morally wrong; that which is a violation of the
natural rights of man, and a sin in the sight of God.

I am not in this matter, constituting myself a judge of others. I do
not say that no honest man can take such an oath, and abide by it. I
only say, that _I_ would not now deliberately take it; and that,
having inconsiderately taken it; I can no longer suffer it to lie upon
my soul. I take back the oath, and ask you, sir, to receive back the
commission, which was the occasion of my taking it.

I am aware that my course in this matter is liable to be regarded as
singular, if not censurable; and I must, therefore, be allowed to make
a more specific statement of those _provisions of the Constitution_
which support the enormous wrong, the heinous sin of slavery.

The very first Article of the Constitution takes slavery at once under
its legislative protection, as a basis of representation in the
popular branch of the National Legislature. It regards slaves under
the description "of all other _persons_"--as of only three-fifths of
the value of free persons; thus to appearance undervaluing them in
comparison with freemen. But its dark and involved phraseology seems
intended to blind us to the consideration, that those underrated
slaves are merely a _basis_, not the _source_ of representation; that
by the laws of all the States where they live, they are regarded not
as _persons_, but as _things_; that they are not the _constituency_ of
the representative, but his property; and that the necessary effect of
this provision of the Constitution is, to take legislative power out
of the hands of _men_, as such, and give it to the mere possessors of
goods and chattels. Fixing upon thirty thousand persons, as the
smallest number that shall send one member into the House of
Representatives, it protects slavery by distributing legislative power
in a free and in a slave State thus: To a congressional district in
South Carolina, containing fifty thousand slaves, claimed as the
property of five hundred whites, who hold, on an average, one hundred
apiece, it gives one Representative in Congress; to a district in
Massachusetts containing a population of thirty thousand five hundred,
one Representative is assigned. But inasmuch as a slave is never
permitted to vote, the fifty thousand persons in a district in
Carolina form no part of "the constituency;" _that_ is found only in
the five hundred free persons. Five hundred freemen of Carolina could
send one Representative to Congress, while it would take thirty
thousand five hundred freemen of Massachusetts, to do the same thing:
that is, one slaveholder in Carolina is clothed by the Constitution
with the same political power and influence in the Representatives
Hall at Washington, as sixty Massachusetts men like you and me, who
"eat their bread in the sweat of their own brows."

According to the census of 1830, and the _ratio_ of representation
based upon that, slave property added twenty-five members to the House
of Representatives. And as it has been estimated, (as an
approximation to the truth,) that the two and a half million slaves in
the United States are held as property by about two hundred and fifty
thousand persons--giving an average of ten slaves to each slaveholder,
those twenty-five Representatives, each chosen, at most by only ten
thousand voters, and probably by less than three-fourths of that
number, were the representatives not only of the two hundred and fifty
thousand persons who chose them, but of property which, five years
ago, when slaves were lower in market, than at present, were
estimated, by the man who is now the most prominent candidate for the
Presidency, at twelve hundred millions of dollars--a sum, which, by
the natural increase of five years, and the enhanced value resulting
from a more prosperous state of the planting interest, cannot now be
less than fifteen hundred millions of dollars. All this vast amount of
property, as it is "peculiar," is also identical in its character. In
Congress, as we have seen, it is animated by one spirit, moves in one
mass, and is wielded with one aim; and when we consider that tyranny
is always timid, and despotism distrustful, we see that this vast
money power would be false to itself, did it not direct all its eyes
and hands, and put forth all its ingenuity and energy, to one
end--self-protection and self-perpetuation. And this it has ever done.
In all the vibrations of the political scale, whether in relation to a
Bank or Sub-Treasury, Free Trade or a Tariff, this immense power has
moved, and will continue to move, in one mass, for its own protection.

While the weight of the slave influence is thus felt in the House of
Representatives, "in the Senate of the Union," says JOHN QUINCY ADAMS,
"the proportion of slaveholding power is still greater. By the
influence of slavery in the States where the institution is tolerated,
over their elections, no other than a slaveholder can rise to the
distinction of obtaining a seat in the Senate; and thus, of the
fifty-two members of the federal Senate, twenty-six are owners of
slaves, and are as effectually representatives of that interest, as
the eighty-eight members elected by them to the House"

The dominant power which the Constitution gives to the slave interest,
as thus seen and exercised in the _Legislative Halls_ of our nation,
is equally obvious and obtrusive in every other department of the
National government.

In the _Electoral colleges_, the same cause produces the same
effect--the same power is wielded for the same purpose, as in the
Halls of Congress. Even the preliminary nominating conventions, before
they dare name a candidate for the highest office in the gift of the
people, must ask of the Genius of slavery, to what votary she will
show herself propitious. This very year, we see both the great
political parties doing homage to the slave power, by nominating each
a slaveholder for the chair of State. The candidate of one party
declares, "I should have opposed, and would continue to oppose, any
scheme whatever of emancipation, either gradual or immediate;" and
adds, "It is not true, and I rejoice that it is not true, that either
of the two great parties of this country has any design or aim at
abolition. I should deeply lament it, if it were true."[12]

[Footnote 12: Henry Clay's speech in the United States Senate in 1839,
and confirmed at Raleigh, N.C. 1844.]

The other party nominates a man who says, "I have no hesitation in
declaring that I am in favor of the immediate re-annexation of Texas
to the territory and government of the United States."

Thus both the political parties, and the candidates of both, vie with
each other, in offering allegiance to the slave power, as a condition
precedent to any hope of success in the struggle for the executive
chair; a seat that, for more than three-fourths of the existence of
our constitutional government, has been occupied by a slaveholder.

The same stern despotism overshadows even the sanctuaries of
_justice_. Of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court of the United
States, five are slaveholders, and of course, must be faithless to
their own interest, as well as recreant to the power that gives them
place, or must, so far as _they_ are concerned, give both to law and
constitution such a construction as shall justify the language of John
Quincy Adams, when he says--"The legislative, executive, and judicial
authorities, are all in their hands--for the preservation,
propagation, and perpetuation of the black code of slavery. Every law
of the legislature becomes a link in the chain of the slave; every
executive act a rivet to his hapless fate; every judicial decision a
perversion of the human intellect to the justification of wrong."

Thus by merely adverting but briefly to the theory and the practical
effect of this clause of the Constitution, that I have sworn to
support, it is seen that it throws the political power of the nation
into the hands of the slaveholders; a body of men, which, however it
may be regarded by the Constitution as "persons," is in fact and
practical effect, a vast moneyed corporation, bound together by an
indissoluble unity of interest, by a common sense of a common danger;
counselling at all times for its common protection; wielding the whole
power, and controlling the destiny of the nation.

If we look into the legislative halls, slavery is seen in the chair of
the presiding officer of each; and controlling the action of both.
Slavery occupies, by prescriptive right, the Presidential chair. The
paramount voice that comes from the temple of national justice, issues
from the lips of slavery. The army is in the hands of slavery, and at
her bidding, must encamp in the everglades of Florida, or march from
the Missouri to the borders of Mexico, to look after her interests in

The navy, even that part that is cruising off the coast of Africa, to
suppress the foreign slave trade, is in the hands of slavery.

Freemen of the North, who have even dared to lift up their voice
against slavery, cannot travel through the slave States, but at the
peril of their lives.

The representatives of freemen are forbidden, on the floor of
Congress, to remonstrate against the encroachments of slavery, or to
pray that she would let her poor victims go.

I renounce my allegiance to a Constitution that enthrones such a
power, wielded for the purpose of depriving me of my rights, of
robbing my countrymen of their liberties, and of securing its own
protection, support and perpetuation.

Passing by that clause of the Constitution, which restricted Congress
for twenty years, from passing any law against the African slave
trade, and which gave authority to raise a revenue on the stolen sons
of Africa, I come to that part of the fourth article, which guarantees
protection against "_domestic violence_," which pledges to the South
the military force of the country, to protect the masters against
their insurgent slaves, and binds us, and our children, to shoot down
our fellow-countrymen, who may rise, in emulation of our revolutionary
fathers, to vindicate their inalienable "right to life, _liberty_, and
the pursuit of happiness,"--this clause of the Constitution, I say
distinctly, I never will support.

That part of the Constitution which provides for the surrender of
fugitive slaves, I never have supported and never will. I will join in
no slave-hunt. My door shall stand open, as it has long stood, for the
panting and trembling victim of the slave-hunter. When I shut it
against him, may God shut the door of his mercy against me! Under this
clause of the Constitution, and designed to carry it into effect,
slavery has demanded that laws should be passed, and of such a
character, as have left the free citizen of the North without
protection for his own liberty. The question, whether a man seized in
a free State as a slave, _is_ a slave or not, the law of Congress does
not allow a jury to determine: but refers it to the decision of a
Judge of a United States' Court, or even of the humblest State
magistrate, it may be, upon the testimony or affidavit of the party
most deeply interested to support the claim. By virtue of this law,
freemen have been seized and dragged into perpetual slavery--and
should I be seized by a slave-hunter in any part of the country where
I am not personally known, neither the Constitution nor laws of the
United States would shield me from the same destiny.

These, sir, are the specific parts of the Constitution of the United
States, which in my opinion are essentially vicious, hostile at once
to the liberty and to the morals of the nation. And these are the
principal reasons of my refusal any longer to acknowledge my
allegiance to it, and of my determination to revoke my oath to support
it. I cannot, in order to keep the law of man, break the law of God,
or solemnly call him to witness my promise that I will break it.

It is true that the Constitution provides for its own amendment, and
that by this process, all the guarantees of Slavery may be expunged.
But it will be time enough to swear to support it when this is done.
It cannot be right to do so, until these amendments are made.

It is also true that the framers of the Constitution did studiously
keep the words "Slave" and "Slavery" from its face. But to do our
constitutional fathers justice, while they forebore--from very
shame--to give the word "Slavery" a place in the Constitution, they
did not forbear--again to do them justice--to give place in it to the
_thing_. They were careful to wrap up the idea, and the substance of
Slavery, in the clause for the surrender of the fugitive, though they
sacrificed justice in doing so.

There is abundant evidence that this clause touching "persons held to
service or labor," not only operates practically, under the Judicial
construction, for the protection of the slave interest; but that it
was _intended_ so to operate by the farmers of the Constitution. The
highest Judicial authorities--Chief Justice SHAW, of the Supreme Court
of Massachusetts, in the LATIMER case, and Mr. Justice STORY, in the
Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of _Prigg_ vs. _The
State of Pennsylvania_,--tell us, I know not on what evidence, that
without this "compromise," this security for Southern slaveholders,
"the Union could not have been formed." And there is still higher
evidence, not only that the framers of the Constitution meant by this
clause to protect slavery, but that they did this, knowing that
slavery was wrong. Mr. MADISON[13] informs us that the clause in
question, as it came of the hands of Dr. JOHNSON, the chairman of the
"committee on style," read thus: "No person legally held to service,
or labor, in one State, escaping into another, shall," &c. and that
the word "legally" was struck out, and the words "under the laws
thereof" inserted after the word "State," in compliance with the wish
of some, who thought the term _legal_ equivocal, and favoring the idea
that slavery was legal "_in a moral view_." A conclusive proof that,
although future generations might apply that clause to other kinds of
"service or labor," when slavery should have died out, or been killed
off by the young spirit of liberty, which was _then_ awake and at work
in the land; still, slavery was what they were wrapping up in
"equivocal" words; and wrapping it up for its protection and safe
keeping: a conclusive proof that the framers of the Constitution were
more careful to protect themselves in the judgment of coming
generations, from the charge of ignorance, than of sin; a conclusive
proof that they knew that slavery was _not_ "legal in a moral view,"
that it was a violation of the moral law of God; and yet knowing and
confessing its immorality, they dared to make this stipulation for its
support and defence.

[Footnote 13: Madison Papers, p. 1589.]

This language may sound harsh to the ears of those who think it a part
of their duty, as citizens, to maintain that whatever the patriots of
the Revolution did, was right; and who hold that we are bound to _do_
all the iniquity that they covenanted for us that we _should_ do. But
the claims of truth and right are paramount to all other claims.

With all our veneration for our constitutional fathers, we must
admit,--for they have left on record their own confession of it,--that
in this part of their work they _intended_ to hold the shield of their
protection over a wrong, knowing that it was a wrong. They made a
"compromise" which they had no right to make--a compromise of moral
principle for the sake of what they probably regarded as "political
expediency." I am sure they did not know--no man could know, or can
now measure, the extent, or the consequences of the wrong that they
were doing. In the strong language of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS,[14] in
relation to the article fixing the basis of representation, "Little
did the members of the Convention, from the free States, imagine or
foresee what a sacrifice to Moloch was hidden under the mask of this

[Footnote 14: See his Report on the Massachusetts Resolutions.]

I verily believe that, giving all due consideration to the benefits
conferred upon this nation by the Constitution, its national unity,
its swelling masses of wealth, its power, and the external prosperity
of its multiplying millions; yet the moral injury that has been done,
by the countenance shown to slavery; by holding over that tremendous
sin the shield of the Constitution, and thus breaking down in the eyes
of the nation the barrier between right and wrong; by so tenderly
cherishing slavery as, in less than the life of a man, to multiply her
children from half a million to nearly three millions; by enacting
oaths from those who occupy prominent stations in society, that they
will violate at once the rights of man and the law of God; by
substituting itself as a rule of right, in place of the moral laws of
the universe;--thus in effect, dethroning the Almighty in the hearts
of this people and setting up another sovereign in his stead--more
than outweighs it all. A melancholy and monitory lesson this, to all
time-serving and temporizing statesmen! A striking illustration of the
_impolicy_ of sacrificing _right_ to any considerations of expediency!
Yet, what better than the evil effects that we have seen, could the
authors of the Constitution have reasonably expected, from the
sacrifice of right, in the concessions they made to slavery? Was it
reasonable in them to expect that, after they had introduced a vicious
element into the very Constitution of the body politic which they were
calling into life, it would not exert its vicious energies? Was it
reasonable in them to expect that, after slavery had been corrupting
the public morals for a whole generation, their children would have
too much virtue to _use_ for the defence of slavery, a power which
they themselves had not too much virtue to _give_? It is dangerous for
the sovereign power of a State to license immorality; to hold the
shield of its protection over anything that is not "legal in a moral
view." Bring into your house a benumbed viper, and lay it down upon
your warm hearth, and soon it will not ask you into which room it may
crawl. Let Slavery once lean upon the supporting arm, and bask in the
fostering smile of the State, and you will soon see, as we now see,
both her minions and her victims multiply apace, till the politics,
the morals, the liberties, even the religion of the nation, are
brought completely under her control.

To me, it appears that the virus of slavery, introduced into the
Constitution of our body politic, by a few slight punctures, has now
so pervaded and poisoned the whole system of our National Government,
that literally there is no health in it. The only remedy that I can
see for the disease, is to be found in the _dissolution of the

The Constitution of the United States, both in theory and practice, is
so utterly broken down by the influence and effects of slavery, so
imbecile for the highest good of the nation, and so powerful for evil,
that I can give no voluntary assistance in holding it up any longer.

Henceforth it is dead to me, and I to it. I withdraw all profession of
allegiance to it, and all my voluntary efforts to sustain it. The
burdens that it lays upon me, while it is held up by others, I shall
endeavor to bear patiently, yet acting with reference to a higher law,
and distinctly declaring, that while I retain my own liberty, I will
be a party to no compact, which helps to rob any other man of his.

Very respectfully, your friend,





"We have slavery, already, amongst us. The Constitution found it among
us; it recognized it and gave it SOLEMN GUARANTIES. To the full extent
of these guaranties we are all bound, in honor, in justice, and by the
Constitution. All the stipulations, contained in the Constitution, _in
favor of the slaveholding States_ which are already in the Union,
ought to be fulfilled, and so far as depends on me, shall be
fulfilled, in the fulness of their spirit, and to the exactness of
their letter." !!!

* * * * *




The benefits of the Constitution of the United States, were the
restoration of credit and reputation, to the country--the revival of
commerce, navigation, and ship-building--the acquisition of the means
of discharging the debts of the Revolution, and the protection and
encouragement of the infant and drooping manufactures of the country.
All this, however, as is now well ascertained, was insufficient to
propitiate the rulers of the Southern States to the adoption of the
Constitution. What they specially wanted was _protection_.--Protection
from the powerful and savage tribes of Indians within their borders,
and who were harassing them with the most terrible of wars--and
protection from their own negroes--protection from their
insurrections--protection from their escape--protection even to the
trade by which they were brought into the country--protection, shall I
not blush to say, protection to the very bondage by which they were
held. Yes! it cannot be denied--the slaveholding lords of the South
prescribed, as a condition of their assent to the Constitution, three
special provisions to secure the perpetuity of their dominion over
their slaves. The first was the immunity for twenty years of
preserving the African slave-trade; the second was the stipulation to
surrender fugitive slaves--an engagement positively prohibited by the
laws of God, delivered from Sinai; and thirdly, the exaction fatal to
the principles of popular representation, of a representation for
slaves--for articles of merchandise, under the name of persons.

The reluctance with which the freemen of the North submitted to the
dictation of these conditions, is attested by the awkward and
ambiguous language in which they are expressed. The word slave is most
cautiously and fastidiously excluded from the whole instrument. A
stranger, who should come from a foreign land, and read the
Constitution of the United States, would not believe that slavery or a
slave existed within the borders of our country. There is not a word
in the Constitution _apparently_ bearing upon the condition of
slavery, nor is there a provision but would be susceptible of
practical execution, if there were not a slave in the land.

The delegates from South Carolina and Georgia distinctly avowed that,
without this guarantee of protection to their property in slaves, they
would not yield their assent to the Constitution; and the freemen of
the North, reduced to the alternative of departing from the vital
principle of their liberty, or of forfeiting the Union itself, averted
their faces, and with trembling hand subscribed the bond.

Twenty years passed away--the slave markets of the South were
saturated with the blood of African bondage, and from midnight of the
31st of December, 1807, not a slave from Africa was suffered ever more
to be introduced upon our soil. But the internal traffic was still
lawful, and the _breeding_ States soon reconciled themselves to a
prohibition which gave them the monopoly of the interdicted trade, and
they joined the full chorus of reprobation, to punish with death the
slave-trader from Africa, while they cherished and shielded and
enjoyed the precious profits of the American slave-trade exclusively
to themselves.

Perhaps this unhappy result of their concession had not altogether
escaped the foresight of the freemen of the North; but their intense
anxiety for the preservation of the whole Union, and the habit already
formed of yielding to the somewhat peremptory and overbearing tone
which the relation of master and slave welds into the nature of the
lord, prevailed with them to overlook this consideration, the internal
slave-trade having scarcely existed, while that with Africa had been
allowed. But of one consequence which has followed from the slave
representation, pervading the whole organic structure of the
Constitution, they certainly were not prescient; for if they had been,
never--no, never would they have consented to it.

The representation, ostensibly of slaves, under the name of persons,
was in its operation an exclusive grant of power to one class of
proprietors, owners of one species of property, to the detriment of
all the rest of the community. This species of property was odious in
its nature, held in direct violation of the natural and inalienable
rights of man, and of the vital principles of Christianity; it was all
accumulated in one geographical section of the country, and was all
held by wealthy men, comparatively small in numbers, not amounting to
a tenth part of the free white population of the States in which it
was concentrated.

In some of the ancient, and in some modern republics, extraordinary
political power and privileges have been invested in the owners of
horses but then these privileges and these powers have been granted
for the equivalent of extraordinary duties and services to the
community, required of the favored class. The Roman knights
constituted the cavalry of their armies, and the bushels of rings
gathered by Hannibal from their dead bodies, after the battle of
Cannae, amply prove that the special powers conferred upon them were
no gratuitous grants. But in the Constitution of the United States,
the political power invested in the owners of slaves is entirely
gratuitous. No extraordinary service is required of them; they are, on
the contrary, themselves grievous burdens upon the community, always
threatened with the danger of insurrections, to be smothered in the
blood of both parties, master and slave, and always depressing the
condition of the poor free laborer, by competition with the labor of
the slave. The property in horses was the gift of God to man, at the
creation of the world; the property in slaves is property acquired and
held by crimes, differing in no moral aspect from the pillage of a
freebooter, and to which no lapse of time can give a prescriptive
right. You are told that this is no concern of yours, and that the
question of freedom and slavery is exclusively reserved to the
consideration of the separate States. But if it be so, as to the mere
question of right between master and slave, it is of tremendous
concern to you that this little cluster of slave-owners should
possess, besides their own share in the representative hall of the
nation, the exclusive privilege of appointing two-fifths of the whole
number of the representatives of the people. This is now your
condition, under that delusive ambiguity of language and of principle,
which begins by declaring the representation in the popular branch of
the legislature a representation of persons, and then provides that
one class of persons shall have neither part nor lot in the choice of
their representatives; but their elective franchise shall be
transferred to their masters, and the oppressors shall represent the
oppressed. The same perversion of the representative principle
pollutes the composition of the colleges of electors of President and
Vice President of the United States, and every department of the
government of the Union is thus tainted at its source by the gangrene
of slavery.

Fellow-citizens,--with a body of men thus composed, for legislators
and executors of the laws, what will, what must be, what has been your
legislation? The numbers of freemen constituting your nation are much
greater than those of the slaveholding States, bond and free. You have
at least three-fifths of the whole population of the Union. Your
influence on the legislation and the administration of the government
ought to be in the proportion of three to two--But how stands the
fact? Besides the legitimate portion of influence exercised by the
slaveholding States by the measure of their numbers, here is an
intrusive influence in every department, by a representation nominally
of persons, but really of property, ostensibly of slaves, but
effectively of their masters, overbalancing your superiority of
numbers, adding two-fifths of supplementary power to the two-fifths
fairly secured to them by the compact, CONTROLLING AND OVERRULING THE
the sordid private interest and oppressive policy of 300,000 owners of

From the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the United
States, the institution of domestic slavery has been becoming more and
more the abhorrence of the civilized world. But in proportion as it
has been growing odious to all the rest of mankind, it has been
sinking deeper and deeper into the affections of the holders of slaves
themselves. The cultivation of cotton and of sugar, unknown in the
Union at the establishment of the Constitution, has added largely to
the pecuniary value of the slave. Aud the suppression of the African
slave-trade as piracy upon pain of death, by securing the benefit of a
monopoly to the virtuous slaveholders of the ancient dominion, has
turned her heroic tyrannicides into a community of slave-breeders for
sale, and converted the land of GEORGE WASHINGTON, PATRICK HENRY,
RICHARD HENRY LEE, and THOMAS JEFFERSON, into a great barracoon--a
cattle-show of human beings, an emporium, of which the staple articles
of merchandise are the flesh and blood, the bones and sinews of
immortal man.

Of the increasing abomination of slavery in the unbought hearts of men
at the time when the Constitution of the United States was formed,
what clearer proof could be desired, than that the very same year in
which that charter of the land was issued, the Congress of the
Confederation, with not a tithe of the powers given by the people to
the Congress of the new compact, actually abolished slavery for ever
throughout the whole Northwestern territory, without a remonstrance or
a murmur. But in the articles of confederation, there was no guaranty
for the property of the slaveholder--no double representation of him
in the Federal councils--no power of taxation--no stipulation for the
recovery of fugitive slaves. But when the powers of _government_ came
to be delegated to the Union, the South--that is, South Carolina and
Georgia--refused their subscription to the parchment, till it should
be saturated with the infection of slavery, which no fumigation could
purify, no quarantine could extinguish. The freemen of the North gave
way, and the deadly venom of slavery was infused into the Constitution
of freedom. Its first consequence has been to invert the first
principle of Democracy, that the will of the majority of numbers shall
rule the land. By means of the double representation, the minority
command the whole, and a KNOT OF SLAVEHOLDERS GIVE THE LAW AND
PRESCRIBE THE POLICY OF THE COUNTRY. To acquire this superiority of a
large majority of freemen, a persevering system of engrossing nearly
all the seats of power and place, is constantly for a long series of
years pursued, and you have seen, in a period of fifty-six years, the
Chief-magistracy of the Union held, during forty-four of them, by the
owners of slaves. The Executive department, the Army and Navy, the
Supreme Judicial Court and diplomatic missions abroad, all present the
same spectacle;--an immense majority of power in the hands of a very
small minority of the people--millions made for a fraction of a few

* * * * *

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, and of the slaveholding States, at home and
abroad; and at the very time when a new census has exhibited a large
increase upon the superior numbers of the free States, it has
presented the portentous evidence of increased influence and
ascendancy of the slave-holding power.

Of the prevalence of that power, you have had continual and conclusive
evidence in the suppression for the space of ten years of the right of
petition, guarantied, if there could be a guarantee against slavery,
by the first article amendatory of the Constitution.


Back to Full Books