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compact of Union which, directly or by implication, confers such jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, it is a historical fact, that the slavery question has occupied a large portion of the time of Congress for the last fifty years. Nor has it been a mere idle debate in that body, upon the moral attributes and character of this relation. Congress, by the sole agency of majorities, by the instructing power of majorities, by the mad will, command and imperious dictation of majorities, has not only assumed jurisdiction of the subject, but legislated upon it, abolished it where it existed, prohibited its introduction where it did not exist; and finally, in the ordinary course of usurpation, assumed to exercise unlimited control of it in every part of the Union.
No well-informed and we'l-disposed man will maintain that this action of Congress is authorized by the States or the compact of Union. And no student of government will venture to say, that such action was consistent with the maintenance of a free system of laws. It was neither. Laws must, under our scheme, be supreme over individuals and majorities, or they are nothing. Whatever might be the result of a radical violation of the laws under other governments, their complete maintenance in this country, since the adoption of the Federal Constitution, is absolutely necessary. The more so here, because the structure of our institutions is of a compound nature, embracing many separate and distinct nationalities in one General Government, created by compact, by and between those nationalities. It is not, then, purely a scheme of laws, but a compact of States also, leaving no discretionary authority to alter or suspend either, and making the life of both to depend entirely upon their rigid and complete enforcement, in every essential particular.
Whether the existence of slavery was compatible or not with the establishment of such a system, is another and utterly foreign question. It is to be observed that in ordaining the Union, slavery was an institution already legalized, extending to quite all the States of the original confederation. It is manifest, then, that those who maintain the incompatibility of slavery with free institutions, are bound to go farther, and show that the States of 1789 were incapable, by
reason of the existence of slavery, of ordaining such institutions. This argument, we apprehend, followed to its legitimate end, accomplishes more than the enemies of slavery, at the present time, desire. It was one of their weapons, used in demolishing the bulwarks of the Constitution, but now that they have removed the obstacles in the way of federal jurisdiction and are wielding the powers of the Union to override the States and slavery together, it is no longer necessary to impeach the legal authority of the old Union, on the ground of its incompatibility with slavery. This authority was the legitimate subject of overthrow by majorities, until those majorities got control of it. It was illegal and void so long as it refused to recognize the mission of anti-slavery. It is legal, binding and sacred, in the exclusive execution of such mission.
We bring up this subject, not with a view of the least examination of the abstract question of slavery. Right or wrong, it is a purely domestic interest, which those who maintain must defend. It was so regarded by all the States when they ordained the Union. It was so left by the compact of Union. Whatever has been done since, by the President or Congress, to change its status, we hold to be evidence of the ignorance of the people of what was required to maintain a free system of laws. In this work the laws have been subordinated to the dominion of individuals.
Whatever may be the public judgment on the subject of slavery, we are bound, at least, to acknowledge its existence in this country. This simple fact brings before us more than four millions of people of an inferior race. To release them from bondage and make them coequal inhabitants with a dominant superior race, would be a fearful experiment indeed. We have no right to disturb the pres. ent order of things, except on the basis of the improvement of the condition of the blacks. The naked assertion of their right to freedom goes for nothing, unless by freedom we mean to assure their improvement. Freedom to a people disqualified to maintain their rights, is of no possible advantage. The recent establishment of republican government, in France, did not actually enfranchise that people. Invention is valueless to those who know nothing of its uses or the process of its operation. The daily experience of the whole world attests the truth of these suggestions. Our own recent history exemplifies it. It is as applicable to pations as to individ. uals. Its force was never more apparent than in the treatment of the slavery question. Granting the ability of the negro race to maintain free government, if separated from the whites, it will hardly be contended that they will be able to cope with the latter, as coequal inhabitants. The races are certainly antagonistic. The one or the other will have dominion; which, we apprehend, it is not difficult to determine. It is, in this view, simply impossible to benefit the negroes by abolishing slavery. If there is no other mode by which they can be improved in condition, their welfare demands that they shall, for the present, at least, be let alone. What the future holds in promise for them, it is not for us to de'termine. There is not a day's observation, or a single lesson of experience, which does not teach us that there is a fitting time for all things. Perhaps this admonition is more impressively conveyed to the American people in the history of slavery, in this country, than anywhere else. The process and progress of its expulsion here and there, its removal from one State and its introduction into another, show clearly that there is a law which not only governs its existence, but which will, in the work of time, effect its overthrow.
Great caution, we know, is required in dealing with all such questions. They are too apt to be viewed as mere abstract matters. In this way we come to the ready conclusion, that slavery ought, at once, to be abolished; simply because to hold man in bondage, is wrong and sinful. This reasoning is conclusive with all men who view the subject in the abstract. But in point of fact slavery exists in this country, as it must in every other, as a social institution. It is involuntary labor rendered by an obviously inferior race, to a superior race. Its violent overthrow, in the very nature of things, must produce general disorder, anarchy, and bloodshed. If the blacks could be removed from the country and assisted to maintain civil government, the knowledge they have acquired solely through the agency of bondage, might be sufficient to enable them to better their present condition. As a competing race of freemen, with the white inhabitants of this country, they are certain to fail. We have the most complete and overwhelming testimony upon this point, in the career of the free Indian tribes. They were not only free, but organized into nations. We met three millions of them, and never once made an effort to subject them to our laws. They were our competitors for empire and dominion, in the field of mind and labor. They now number about three hundred and fifty thousand persons. This result, surely, has not been brought about by undue oppression on our part. On the contrary, we have sought, by every means which genuine benevolence and bumanity could suggest, to elevate them in the scale of moral and Christian life. We have instructed them in the use of machinery, and taught them lessons in agriculture. But all to no purpose. There was one lesson they never could understand-how to take care of themselves. Right on the opposite page of our history is written an account of another inferior race, who have been held in slavery to the whites. They have increased from a few hundred thousand to four and a half millions. They were once held by all the American States. As population crowded on production, their labor became unprofitable here and there, and this was sure, in a little time, to abolish the relation. This, we apprehend, is the only legitimate process of its extinction. We doubt, indeed, if it is the moral right of any State of the Union to abolish slavery by any other means. The blacks are entitled to protection, and they can secure it only by remaining as they are, subject to the law referred to.
There are two radical passions which may be counted as the peculiar and ever-active enemies of free government-partisanism and fanaticism. The former is inherent in the system, or rather, the necessary production of elective institutions. It is a pervading and damaging evil.
Civil liberty presupposes intense political action through all the organs of the body politic. Without necessarily involving the equality of the whole people, it opens the way to every citizen, by which it is made possible to secure, not only equal consideration in the State, but command its highest offices and honors. The very statement of this feature of free institutions is quite enough to show that intellectual progress under it is greater than under absolute or despotic rule. There is more expansive power in every view, more energy, more mind, more thought, more invention, and, we apprehend, far more material production. It would be an exception to all rules, if there should not be found something to counterbalance these great benefits and advantages of civil liberty. It is not often that blessings are dispensed without something to remind us that they are to be enjoyed only on certain conditions. The wisdom of a free system of laws, when wisely administered, none will question. But the very advantages it assures are often the cause of its failure. This is especially the case in the almost necessary, certainly most probable, growth of partisanism. It springs immediately out of the scramble for office and place which is sure to result from the number and character of claimants. These persons may enter the field full of patriotism and purpose to promote the general good. In a little time they consult public prejudices, and shape their course more by what will promote their own interest than that of the state. It is easy to see, in this way, how the people may be led to give their allegiance to party, and actually to forget or overlook the obligations of their laws.
These suggestions find the completest verification in the progress of slavery and anti-slavery in the United States. Very much of the hostility, so far as the great body of the people is concerned, to slavery, has a purely partisan origin. It has been promoted as a means of acquiring office and government. It has grown, in ous instances, to be stronger than patriotism, stronger than the Constitution. The natural product of this hostility to slavery, one which could hardly fail to follow its connection with elective institutions, is fanaticism. This species of lunacy is far less reasonable and more difficult to govern than the other. It is a sort of hurricane which sweeps everything before it. All its powers are concentrated upon one object. Everything else is lost in the pursuit of its one cherished end. It may be temperance to-day, native Americanism to-morrow, slavery next, Catholicism next, masonry nest, and so on to the end of its mission. History is a falsehood, experience a deception and a snare, Christianity a cunning fraud, when they cross the path of these monster enemies of free institutions.
They have issued an edict against slavery. They are armed for its overthrow. They are now fighting battles for its extirpation. What they have done and what they have sacrificed, no man can tell.