Before examining the language of the Constitution, in regard to Slavery, let us obtain a view of the principles, by virtue of which law arises out of those constitutions and compacts, by which people agree to establish government.
2. The mention of “slaves” in the preamble to the constitution of Pennsylvania.
As each of these terms and clauses may be claimed by some persons as recognitions of slavery, they are worthy of particular notice.
“The Declaration of Rights is hereby declared to be a part of the constitution of this commonwealth, and ought never to be violated on any pretence whatever.”
Among the definitions given by Noah Webster are these:
“An agreement on marriage, that the husband shall take up the freedom of London, binds the distribution of the effects.”
“Given at Chester,” &c., “under the hand and broad seal of William Penn, proprietary and governor of this province and territories thereunto belonging, in the second year of his government, by the king’s authority.
The constitution of Pennsylvania, (adopted in 1776,) uses the word in the same sense:
There are several reasons why this provision contains no legal recognition of slavery.
2. The rules of law require that an innocent meaning should be given to all words that will bear an innocent meaning.
“We owe it to mere casualty, that very serious embarrassments on this subject have been hitherto escaped.
Although we might stop—we yet do not choose to stop—at the point last suggested.
What, then, are some of these rules of interpretation?
The same reasons that forbid the allowance of any unnecessary implication or inference in favor of a wrong, in the construction of a statute, forbids also the introduction of any extraneous or historical evidence to prove
The same rules of construction, that apply to statutes, apply also to all those private contracts between man and man, which courts actually enforce.
Take another case. The constitution declares that “Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”
At natural law, and on principles of natural right, a person. who should sell to another a weapon or a poison, knowing that it would, or intending that it should be used for the purpose of murder, would be legally an accessary to the murder that
1. It must be construed, if possible, as sanctioning nothing contrary to natural right.
It needs no argument to determine whether the “service or labor,” that is exacted of a slave, is such as can be “claimed,” consistently with natural right, as being “due” from him to his master.
The proper definition of the word “service,” in this case, obviously is, the labor of a servant. And we find, that at and before the adoption of the constitution, the
If “service or labor” were either a test, or a necessary attendant of slavery, that test would of itself abolish slavery;
3. “Held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof.”
The “laws” take no note of the fact whether a slave “labors,” or not.
4. Neither “service” nor “labor” is necessarily slavery;
5. “No person held to service or labor, in one State, under the laws thereof.”
The “laws,” here mentioned, and impliedly sanctioned, are, of course, only constitutional laws—laws, that are consistent, both with the constitution of the
The burden of proof, then, still rests upon the advocates of slavery, to show that an act of a State legislature, declaring one man to be the property of another, is a
The question, therefore, of the constitutionality of the slave acts must first be determined, before it
The simple fact, that an act purports to “hold persons to service or labor,” clearly cannot, of itself, make the act constitutional.
No doubt the clause contemplates that there may be constitutional “laws,” under which persons may be “held to service or labor.”
Again. Slave acts were not “laws” according to any State constitution that was in existence at the time the constitution of the United States was adopted.
6. The constitution itself, (Art. 1, Sec. 2,) in fixing the basis of representation, has plainly denied that those described in Art 4  as “persons held to service or labor,” are slaves,
The argument claimed from this clause, in support of slavery, rests entirely upon the word “free,” and the words “all other persons. Or rather, it rests entirely upon the meaning of the word “free,” for
It is evident that the word “free” is not used as the correlative of slavery, because “Indians not taxed” are “excluded” from its application—yet they are not therefore slaves.
But even if slavery had been authorized by the State constitutions, the word “free,” in the United States constitution, could not have been
Again. It certainly cannot be admitted that we must go out of the United States constitution to
Again. If we were permitted to go to the State
If the slave construction be put upon this clause, still another difficulty, in the way of making an
And this consideration of certainty, as to the individuals and numbers belonging to each of these two classes, “free” and
If we adopt that meaning of the word “free,” which is consistent with freedom—that meaning which is consistent with natural right—the meaning given to it by the Articles of
Again. If we look into the constitution itself for the meaning of the word “free,” we find it to result from the distinction there recognized between citizens and aliens. If we
Once more. It is altogether a false, absurd, violent, unnatural and preposterous proceeding, in construing a political paper, which purports to establish men’s
But it is unnecessary to follow out this slave argument into all its
"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
The slave argument, drawn from this clause, is, that the word “importation” applies only to property, and that it therefore
But the idea that the word “importation” applies only to property, is erroneous. It applies correctly both to persons and things. The definition of the verb
Even the popular understanding of the word “import,” when applied to “persons,” does not convey the idea of property. It is only when it is applied
In the case of Ogden vs. Saunders, (12 Wheaton, 332,) Chief Justice Marshall said, that in construing the constitution, “the intention of the instrument must prevail; that this intention must be collected from its words; that
The object, and the only legal object, of the clause was to restrain Congress from so exercising their “power of regulating commerce with foreign
Again. The argument, that the allowance of the “importation” of “persons,” implies the allowance of property
But further. The allowance of the “importation” of slaves, as such, under this clause of the constitution, would imply that Congress must
This is the kind of constitution, under which (according to the slave argument) we lived until 1808.
Suppose that, on the organization of our government, we had been charged by foreign nations with having established a piratical
Again. Even the allowance of the simple “importation” of slaves—(and that is the most that is literally provided for—and the word “importation” must be construed to the letter,) would
Finally. The conclusion, that Congress were restrained, by this clause, only from prohibiting the immigration of a foreign
This version of this provision of the constitution presents a fair illustration of those new ideas of law and language, that have been invented for the special purpose of bringing slavery within the pale of the constitution.
But further. The legal meaning, and the only legal meaning of the word “violence,” in this clause, is unlawful force. The guaranty, therefore, is one of protection only against unlawful force. Let us apply this doctrine to the case of the slaves and
We have thus examined all those clauses of the constitution, that have been relied on to prove that the instrument recognizes and sanctions slavery. No one would have ever dreamed that either of these clauses alone, or that
The clauses mentioned, taken either separately or collectively, neither assert, imply, sanction, recognize nor acknowledge any such thing as slavery. They do
Yet these perversions of the constitution are made by the advocates of slavery, not merely in defiance of those legal rules of interpretation,
And, first, the constitution made all “the people of the United States” citizens under the government to be established by it; for all of those, by whose authority the constitution declares itself to be established, must of course be
The preamble to the constitution has told us in the plainest possible terms, to wit, that “We, the people of the United States,” “do ordain and establish this constitution,” &c.
We cannot go out of the constitution for evidence to prove who were to be citizens under it. We cannot go out of a written instrument for evidence to prove the parties to it, nor to explain its meaning, except the language of the
Because the whole people of the country were not allowed to vote on the ratification of the constitution, it does not follow that
That the designation, “We, the people of the United States,” included the whole people that properly belonged to the United States, is also proved by the fact that no exception is made in any other part of the instrument.
If it be admitted that the constitution designated its own citizens, then there is no escape from the
No one, I suppose, doubts that if the State governments were to abolish slavery, the slaves would then, without further legislation,
But further. The constitution of the United States must be made consistent with itself throughout; and if any of its parts are
Among these provisions are the following:
First. Congress have power to lay a capitation or poll tax upon the people of the country. Upon whom shall this
Second. “The Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among
This power is held, by the Supreme Court of the United States, to be an exclusive one in the general government; and it obviously must be so, to be effectual—
Congress, then, having the exclusive power of regulating this commerce, they only (if anybody) can say who may, and who may not, carry it on; and probably even
Third. “The Congress shall have power to establish post offices and post roads.”
Who, but Congress, have any right to say who may send, or receive
Sixth. “The Congress shall have power to provide for the organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the
Have not Congress, under these powers, as undoubted authority to enroll in the militia, and “arm” those whom the States call slaves, and authorize them always to keep their arms by them, even when not on duty, (that they may at all
Look, too, at this power, in connection with the second amendment to the constitution; which is in these words:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Under this provision any man has a right either to give or sell arms to those persons whom the States call slaves; and there is no constitutional power, in either the national or State governments, that can punish him for so doing; or that
Seventh. The constitution of the United States declares that “no State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts.”
This prohibition upon the States to pass any law impairing the natural obligation of men’s contracts, implies that all men have a constitutional right to enter into all
This provision, therefore, absolutely prohibits the passage of slave laws, because laws that make men slaves must
Eighth. Persons, whom some of the State governments recognize as slaves, are made eligible, by the constitution of the United States, to the office of President of the United States. The constitutional provision on this
“No person, except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office, who shall not have attained the age
According to this provision, all “persons,” who have resided within the United States fourteen years, have attained the age of thirty-five years, and are either natural born citizens, or were
The other class of citizens, mentioned as being eligible to the office of President, consists of the
Every person, then, born in the country, and that shall have attained the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States, is eligible to the office
Persons, who are “citizens” of the United States, according to the foregoing definitions, are also eligible to the offices of representative and senator of the United
Ninth. The constitution declares that “the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury.” Also that “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their
It is obvious that slaves, if we have any, might “levy war against the United States,” and might also “adhere to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” It may, however, be doubted whether they could commit the crime of treason—for
Does this look as if the constitution guarantied, or even recognized the legality of slavery?
Tenth. The constitution declares that “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when, in cases of
The privilege of this writ, wherever it is allowed, is of itself sufficient to make slavery impossible and illegal. The object and prerogative of this writ are to secure to all persons their natural right to personal
The writ of habeas corpus, then, necessarily denies the right of property in man. And the constitution, by declaring, without any discrimination of persons, that
This writ was unquestionably intended as a great constitutional guaranty of personal liberty.
Mr. Christian, one of Blackstone’s editors, says that it is this writ that makes slavery impossible in England. It was on this writ, that Somerset was liberated. The writ, in fact, asserts, as a great constitutional principle, the natural right of personal
Eleventh. “The United States shall guaranty to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and, on application of the legislature,
Mark the strength and explicitness of the first clause of this section, to wit, “The United States shall guaranty to every State in this Union a republican form of government.” Mark also
We have all of us heretofore been compelled to hear, from individuals of slaveholding principles, many arrogant and bombastic assertions, touching the constitutional “guaranties” given to slavery; and persons,
And what is “a republican form of government?” It is where the government is a commonwealth—the property of the public, of the mass of the people, or of the entire people. It is where the government is made up of,
Strange that men, who have eyes capable of discovering in the constitution so many covert, implied and insinuated guaranties of crime and
Even if there had really been, in the constitution, two such contradictory guaranties, as one of liberty or republicanism in every State of the Union, and
But it is constantly asserted, in substance, that there is “no propriety” in the general government’s interfering
But the “propriety,” and not only the propriety, but the necessity of this guaranty, may be maintained on still other grounds.
Now the great bond of union, agreed upon in the general government, was “the rights of man”—expressed in the national constitution by the terms “liberty and justice.” What other bond could have been agreed upon? On what
But there were also motives of a pecuniary and social, as well as political nature, that made it proper that the nation should guaranty to the States a republican form of
Commerce was to be established between the people of the different States. The commerce of a free people is many times more valuable than that of slaves. Freemen produce and consume vastly more than slaves. They have therefore more to buy and more to sell. Hence the
For the want, too, of an enforcement of this guaranty of a republican form of government to each of the States, the population of the country, by the immigration of foreigners, has no doubt been greatly hindered. Multitudes almost innumerable, who would have come here,
Socially, also, we have an interest in the freedom of all the States. We have an interest in free personal intercourse with all the people living under a common government with ourselves. We wish to be free to discuss, with any and all of
The nation at large have still another interest in the republicanism of each of the States; an interest, too, that is indicated in the same
The nation at large, then, as a political community under the constitution, have both interests and rights, and both of the most vital character, in the republicanism of each of the State governments. The guaranty given by the national constitution, securing
This guaranty, then, is not idle verbiage. It is full of meaning. And that meaning is not only fatal to slavery itself, but it is fatal also to all those pretences,