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ceived from the people of Massachusetts any special charge, it was to use my best endeavors to secure the repeal of that act. I began the work in the first session that I was here. Disappointed in various efforts to bring the question directly before the Senate on a bill or resolution, I ventured at last on the advice of eminent Senators who differed from me in sentiment, but who appreciated candidly the obligations of my position to move the repeal on an appropriation bill. A debate ensued, which lasted till late in the evening. It may not be uninteresting to know that on the ayes and noes there were but four votes in the affirmative, Mr. Chase, Mr. Hale, Mr. Sumner, and Mr. Wade. This was 26th August, 1852. Such was the weakness of our cause at that time.
But please remark, that, throughout the protracted and sometimes acrimonious debate, it was never for a moment objected that the proposition was "not germane to the bill," or that it was not completely in order. Had any such thing been tenable, had there been the least apology for it, had it not been utterly unreasonable, be assured, Sir, it would have been made the excuse for stifling the discussion. The two political parties had just made their nomination for President. Franklin Pierce was the candidate of the Democrats, and Winfield Scott of the Whigs. Both had united on platforms declaring the Compromise measures, including the Fugitive Slave Act, "a finality" not to be opened or discussed. But they were opened and discussed on that day.
Mr. Hunter, of Virginia, was at the time Chairman. of the Committee on Finance. He was in many respects a remarkable person, with a mind enlarged some
what by study and long experience in public affairs, and with a temper not easily disturbed. Looking back upon his conduct of the business entrusted to him, there can be no question of his ability or fidelity. There was neither weakness nor indifference in that mildness of sway. He understood completely the duties of his position, was a jealous guardian of the appropriation bills, and was, moreover, a most determined thick-and-thin partisan of Slavery in all its pretensions. But I do not recollect that he interposed any objection to the time or place of my motion; and though the Fugitive Slave Bill was part of his political and social creed, I am sure that he allowed the debate to close without any criticism upon my course, or a single impatient word. All this now belongs to history, and I mention it as a precedent for the present hour.
My motion that day was discussed on its merits, and I trust my motion to-day will be discussed in the same way.
I seek to remove from the statute-book odious provisions in support of Slavery. Whoever is in favor of those provisions, whoever is disposed to keep alive the coastwise slave-trade, or to recognize it in our statutes, will naturally vote against my motion. And yet let me say that I am at a loss to understand how, at this moment, at this stage of our history, any Senator can hesitate to unite with me in this work of expurgation and purification. At all events, I trust the Senator from Ohio will not set up an objection of form to prevent the success of this good work. He must not be more severe against Freedom now than was the representative of Slavery who occupied his place when I moved the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Bill.
Mr. Reverdy Johnson agreed with Mr. Sherman in his objection, and then argued, that, on the repeal of the Act of Congress regulating this trade, it could be carried on under the Constitution without restriction.
Mr. Sumner said:
Of course I disagree radically with the Senator from Maryland [Mr. JOHNSON]. He is always willing to interpret the Constitution for Slavery. I interpret it for Freedom. And yet he is anxious lest the repeal of the two obnoxious sections regulating the coastwise slavetrade should leave it open to unrestrained practice. I do not share his anxiety.
Where will the slaves come from? Not from the Rebel States; for Emancipation is the destined law there. Not from his own State; for Emancipation will soon be the law there. But even should slaves be found for this traffic (which, thank God, cannot be the case), I am unwilling that Congress should continue to regulate the ignoble business. Our statute-book should not be defiled by any such license. Remove this license, and the Constitution, rightly interpreted, will do the
Here arises the difference between the Senator and myself. He proceeds as if those old days still prevailed, when Slavery was installed supreme over the Supreme Court, giving immunity to Slavery everywhere. The times have changed, and the Supreme Court will yet testify to the change. To me it seems clear, that, under the Constitution, no person can be held as a slave on shipboard within the national jurisdiction, and that the national flag cannot cover a slave. The Senator thinks differently, and relies upon the Supreme Court; but I cannot doubt that this regenerated tribunal will
yet speak for Freedom as in times past it has spoken for Slavery. And I trust, should my life be spared, to see the Senator from Maryland, who bows always to the decisions of that tribunal, recognize gladly the law of Freedom thus authoritatively pronounced. Perhaps he will wonder that he was ever able to interpret the Constitution for Slavery. If he should not, others
But my special purpose is to remove odious provisions, and I have contented myself with words of repeal, in the hope of presenting the proposition in such a form as to unite the largest number of votes. My own disposition has been to go further, and to add words of positive prohibition. But, at the present moment, I am willing to waive this addition, and content myself with the simple repeal, that our statute-book may no longer be degraded, trusting that the Constitution, rightly interpreted, will suffice. And yet the positive prohibition, which the Senator seems to invite or to challenge, would not only purify the statute-book, but effectually guard against the future, so that both Constitution and Law would be arrayed against an infamous traffic. Clearly this ought to be done; and if I have not presented it, do not set it down to indifference or inattention, but simply to my desire that the proposition, moved on an appropriation bill, should be limited to the necessity of the occasion. To do less than I propose would be wrong. I should be glad to do more.
Mr. Hendricks, of Indiana, remarked:
"I am surprised that any Senator should oppose the proposition of the Senator from Massachusetts, for we all know that eventually it will be adopted. The objection as to its materiality, or proper connection with this measure, is but an objection of time. No gentleman can question that the
Senator from Massachusetts will eventually carry his proposition..... Why, then, contest the matter longer?.. It may as well come now as at any time. . . . . Sir, I regret to see this. Every law put upon the statute-book by our fathers, with a view of carrying out the provisions of the Constitution, or in pursuance of the spirit of the union between the States, I regret to see wiped out; but we have witnessed it, and I think the effort to delay is useless."
Mr. Collamer, of Vermont, argued for the repeal, insisting that “all laws that undertake to deal with slaves, who are persons under the Constitution and our laws, as articles of merchandise, are unconstitutional."
Meanwhile Mr. Sumner added to his amendment the words, "and the coastwise slave-trade is prohibited forever"; so that the amendment repealed the two obnoxious sections regulating the trade, and also prohibited it.
June 25th, the debate continuing, Mr. Sumner spoke again.
I WISH to make one remark on the question of power. I say nothing on the point whether Congress under the Constitution may regulate the trade in slaves between the States on the land. I waive that question. The proposition before the Senate simply undertakes to prohibit the coastwise slave-trade. Now, Sir, I hold in my hand Brightly's Digest. Turning to that, you will find one head entitled "Coasting Trade," containing no less than forty-eight different sections, each in the nature of a regulation by Congress on that subject. I turn next to another head, entitled "Passengers." There I find seventeen sections, each in the nature of a regulation on that subject; and in point of fact it is well known that Congress has, by most minute regulations, determined. the conditions on which passengers shall be carried in ships. It is known that those regulations are applied especially on board the California steamers, and the steamers between this country and Europe. In the one case the steamers are foreign; in the other they are domestic, or the trade, if I may so say, is domestic.