Sidebilder
PDF

§ 6. By act of March 2, 1807, Congress prohibited, under severe penalties, the importation of slaves into the United States from and after Jan. 1, 1808. By another act, passed April 20, 1818, the penalties of the act of March 2, 1807, were increased in severity. Another act was passed March 3, 1819, authorizing national armed vessels to be sent to the coast of Africa to prevent citizens or residents of the United States from engaging in the slave-trade. This act authorized the seizure and confiscation of any vessels found engaged in this business. Another act of Congress, passed May 15, 1820, made the foreign slave-trade piracy, and punishable by death.

§ 7. The reader should bear in mind that those various acts of Congress have nothing to do with the slave-trade as between the several States. That matter was regulated by the States themselves, and some of them passed laws on this subject. They did this before the final abolition of slavery, which was done by amendment of the Constitution of the United States in 1865.

§ 8. A few words may not be out of place here in reference to the progress of other nations on this subject. The following facts are gathered from one of the lectures of the late Chancellor Kent on the law of nations. The first British statute that declares the slave-trade unlawful was passed in March, 1807. This was a great triumph of British justice. Afterwards, by act of Parliament, March 31, 1824, the slave-trade was declared to be piracy.

§ 9. Almost every maritime nation in Europe has deliberately and solemnly, either by legislative acts or by treaties and other formal engagements, acknowledged the injustice and inhumanity of the trade, and pledged itself to promote its abolition.

§ 10. By treaty between Great Britain and France, May 30, 1814, Louis XVIII. agreed that the traffic was repugnant to the principles of natural justice; and he engaged to add his efforts at the ensuing Congress to induce all the powers of Christendom to decree the abolition of the trade, and that, on the part of the French Government, it should definitely cease in the course of five years.

§ 11. The ministers of the eight principal European powers who met in Congress at Vienna, Feb. 8, 1815, solemnly declared, in the iace of Europe and the world, that the African slave-trade had been regarded by just and enlightened men in all ages as repugnant to the principles of humanity and of universal morality; that the public voice in all civilized countries demanded that it should be suppressed; and that the universal abolition of it was conformable to the spirit of the age and the generous principles of the allied powers. In March, 1815, the Emperor Napoleon decreed that the ilave-trade should be abolished; and in July of the same year, after Napoleon's downfall, Louis XVIII. gave directions tha'; this odious and wicked traffic should from that time cease.

§ 12. Denmark, in 1792, abolished the foreign slave-trade* and (he importation of slaves into her colonies, to take effect in 1804. In December, 1817, Spain prohibited the purchase of slaves on any part of the coast of Africa after May 31, 1820. In January, 1818, Portugal made the like prohibition as to the purchase of slaves on any part of the coast of Africa north of the equator.

§ 13. In 1821, there was not a flag of any European State which could legally cover this traffic to the north of the equator; anc fet, in 1825, the importation of slaves covertly continued, if it was not openly countenanced, from the R!o de la Plata to the Amazon, and through the whole American archipelago.

§ 14. By a convention between England and Brazil in 1826, it was made piratical for the subjects of Brazil to be engaged in the slave-trade after the year 1830. In the treaty of Sept. 10, 1822, between Great Britain and the Imaun of Muscat, the latter agreed to abolish the slave-trade for ever in his dominions. By the treaty of the 23d of October, 1817, between Great Britain and the King of Madagascar, it was agreed that there should be throughout the dominions of the latter an entire cessation of the sale or transfer of slaves.

§ 15. These treaty stipulations have not, in all instances, been faithfully kept; nor have the laws passed by the nations of Europe and America, interdicting this traffic, in all cases been successfully enforced: but they demonstrate the moral sense of the nations of Christendom on the subject.

§ 16. The provision prohibiting any amendment to the Constito

tion of the United States, which should forbid the importation of slaves before 1808, was one of the results of a compromise of thia whole matter of slavery. It was feared by those States that had a large commercial interest in the foreign slave-trade, that, although Congress was forbidden to intermeddle with the subject before 1808, some amendment to the Constitution might be adopted to their prejudice unless forbidden. To allay that fear, this prohibition was inserted.

AUT. IX. —REPUDIATION.

1. Nothing in the Constitution shall be construed so as to

prejudice any claim,

1st. Of the United States; nor,
2d. Of any particular States. 76.

2. AM debts contracted, and engagements entered into, before

the adoption of the Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under the Constitution as under the Confederation. 79.

§ 1. Although these two clauses refer each to a different class of subjects, the spirit of them is the same. They are intended to give an assurance to the people who are asked to adopt the new Constitution, that good faith shall be observed on the part of the proposed new government in all matters relating to the vested rights of States as well as of individuals, and also of the United States. As the government was about to undergo a great change, it was proper to incorporate these provisions into the fundamental law of the land, so as to quiet all fear that repudiation in some form might be attempted.

§ 2. The first of these provisions relates to conflicting claims and unsettled titles to some parts of the Western territory. That sub" ject has been considered in Art. X., Chap. IV., Part II., in treating of the powers of Congress over territory, and more particularly with reference to new States, and their admission into the Union. The intention of this clause is to give assurance that the adoption of the Constitution shall in no way affect the validity of any claims to these lands, but that the rights of parties interested shall be the same as they were under the Confederation.

§ 3. The second clause, referring to debts, contracts, and engagements made by the United States under the Confederation, is intended to give assurance to the creditors of the proposed new government that all just claims against the Confederation will be recognized and liquidated under the Constitution. Judge Story says that this can scarcely be deemed more than a solemn declaration of what the public law of nations recognizes as a moral obligation, binding on all nations, notwithstanding any changes in their forms of government. (See appendix to Analysis E, page 107.)

Art. X. Freedom.

1. Civil.

1st. Congress shall make no law abridging,
1st. The freedom ofspeech; nor,
2d. Tlu'freedom of'the press / nor,
3d. The right of the people peaceably to assemble
and petition the government for a redress
of grievances. 83.
2d. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall
not be infringed. 84.

2. Religious.

1st. No religious test shall ever be required as a quali-
fication to any public office or trust under the
United States. 81.
2d. Congress shall make no law,

1st. Respecting an establishment of religion; or, 2d. Prohibiting the free exercise thereof. 83. § 1. The subjects of this article are, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of petition, freedom to bear arms, and freedom of religious sentiment. These are among the most sacred rights of human society; and Congress is strictly forbidden to interfere with them. But one of these rights, that relating to a religious test as a qualification to office, is in the Constitution as at first adopted. The others are in the amendments.

§ 2. When the Constitution was before the people, objections were made to it on the ground that it did not contain any formal and distinctive bill of rights. Several of the State Conventions that ratified it suggested certain amendments that should make definite acknowledgment of the rights of the people, which were not specified in that document. These proposed amendments were commended to the attention of Congress, and most of them have since been adopted. Among the number are those specified in this article.

§ 3. Some of these amendments are negative in form, and others affirmative. Those under consideration are such as relate to the individual rights of the citizen, civil and religious, with which the government is forbidden to interfere. They are prohibitions on the United States, relating to personal freedom.

§ 4. Freedom of speech, with which Congress is prohibited from interfering, does not mean to shield the citizen from legal responsibility for what he may utter. True, a man may say what he pleases; but he is responsible for the abuse of this liberty. He has no right to slander the reputation of another. Private reputation is a subject of protection by the laws of the land. You may slander a man in various ways, notwithstanding this liberty of speech. If you charge him with the commission of a crime which is indictable, and which would subject him, if true, to infamous punishment, this is slander. Charging a man with a breach of public trust is slander. A man can be slandered in reference to his trade or business by declaring him to be incompetent, or by saying of a merchant, for instance, that he is in failing circumstances, when he is not.

§ 5. A slander becomes a libel when communicated by pictures or signs, or writing, printing, or painting. It is then caleulated to make a deeper impression, may have a wider circulation, and is the more aggravating, because it may be presumed to be done with full deliberation. A matter may be libelous if written or printed, which, legally, would not be slanderous if spoken. Expressions which hold a man up to ridicule, or tend to degrade him in the esteem of society, are libelous if written or printed. Freedom of the press, referred to in this article, does not exonerate a man from legal responsibility when he abuses that freedom. Libel is an indictable offense, and may be punished criminally. Slander is not

« ForrigeFortsett »