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minds, to justify them in a course so opposite to what might have been expected. It is not our intention, however, to advance the idea that all the men of that age were perfect. That there were men who would not have been willing to act in such a hypocritical manner; and that there were many who did use their utmost influence to fasten upon the country this system of abominations, and, on account of their supposed interest involved, were willing to do any thing, provided this should be effected; and that many, after our independence was gained, took no active interest in it, and would have been very glad had no change taken place, but, after it did take place, threw in what weight they could to prevent any alteration in their domestic concerns, – we have no doubt. And that such persons did effect much, and did, perhaps, prevent a general emancipation from slavery throughout the United States at the time, there can, perhaps, be no doubt; neither can there be any doubt that, through their solicitations, and the honest fears of others, as to the consequence of having in their midst, without more than ordinary restraint, a comparatively ignorant, barbarous, and heathen people, the subject of emancipation was kept in the back-ground, or involved so mysteriously as to be left, by those who would have taken a different course, to future generations, to correct any error they may have committed; and we find that those who took the most active part in that struggle, and by whose influence it was in the main carried
on, were thwarted and prevented from doing as they would. Having gone through one struggle, and being, as they themselves say, advanced in years, they left what of the work they had not
finished to those who might come after them.
But, after all, although they did not proclaim a general emancipation to the colored race, yet we think they left no word by which slavery could be justified or maintained in the Constitution of our country; and that, so far as that instrument is concerned, it cannot be supported. This, we are aware, is an assertion contrary to the expressed opinion of many distinguished men. But, when a guaranty is given, we think there ought to be something more than inuendoes to maintain it; that the subject to be guaranteed should be expressly stated; that nothing should have been left to inference; that, in a case so important, a clear understanding should have been entertained; there should have been left no doubt on the subject; and yet, in all of the public documents that were given to the American people and to the world, the subject of slavery is not mentioned but with reprobation. The nation at large were, no doubt, opposed to slavery. No one, in that age, dared to assert slavery was a blessing; no one seemed to think it was so; but every demonstration that was made in regard to it was of a contrary character. The trade has been termed, at least when conducted on a foreign shore, piracy; and their abhorrence of it has been shown, in a greater or less degree, in the various laws that have been made on the subject. We must admit, however, they suffered, against the consent of the most active men in the revolutionary struggle, this piracy to continue twenty years after our present government was established, and, by so doing, laid the foundation of the troubles we now experience; though the very manner they worded this permission shows they did not feel over-anxious to leave on record any justification, on their part, of its being done; and that the present ideas in regard to it are but of late growth. The idea of its being a blessing, as a permanent institution, does not appear to have entered their heads. It was solely the want of laborers in the more southern States that induced them to consent to have it continued, and not because they had any sympathy for the system. It was urged that the white man could not work on the rice plains of the South ; and, unless there could be a colored population there, they would have to remain a wilderness; and that the African would be better off in this country than in his own. These ideas, with the fear they should not be able to maintain their liberties and the best good of the country without a union of the States, induced them to consent to its temporary continuance. Its perpetuation, however, was not thought of, saving, perhaps, in the minds of some, the young giant was discovered while it was but a suckling. But it is asked how it is, then, that that which was considered so great an evil, at the time of which we are speaking, should in so short a time become to be considered of so much utility that it must not be spoken of but with approbation, and that the statesmen in both of the great political parties of our country so universally uncover their heads in its presence, and bow down to it as to a god from whom they have received their very existence. Mr. Birney, in his letter to the Hon. Mr. Elmore, of South Carolina, in answer to certain inquiries made of him respecting, the intentions and prospects of the abolitionists of the North, states the case in a clear and distinct light. He says,
“The ascendency that slavery has acquired and exercises, in the administration of the government, and the apprehension now prevailing among the sober and intelligent, irrespective of party, that it will soon overmatch the Constitution itself, may be ranked among the events of the last two or three years that effect the cause of the abolitionist. The abolitionists regard the Constitution with unabated affection. They hold in no common veneration the memory of those who made it. They would be the last to brand Franklin, and King, and Morris, and Wilton, and Sherman, and Hamilton, with the ineffable infamy of attempting to engraft on the Constitution, and therefore to perpetuate, a system of oppression in absolute antagonism to its high and professed objects, one which their own practice condemned ; and this, too, when they had scarcely wiped away the dust and sweat of the Revolution from their brows.
“Whilst abolitionists speak thus of our constitutional fathers, they do not justify the dereliction from principles into which they were betrayed, when they imparted to the works of their hands any power to contribute to the continuance of such a system. They can only palliate it, by supposing that they thought slavery was already a waning institution, destined soon to pass away. In their time, (1787.) slaves were comparatively of little value, there being then no great slave staple (as cotton is now) to make them profitable to the slaveholder." “Had the circumstances of the country remained as they then were, slave labor, always and every where the most expensive, would have disappeared before the competition of free labor. They had seen, too, the principles of liberty embodied in most of the State Constitutions; they had seen slavery utterly forbidden in that of Vermont, instantaneously abolished in that of Massachusetts, and laws enacted in the other New England States, and in Pennsylvania, for its gradual abolition. Well might they have anticipated that justice and humanity, now starting forth with fresh vigor, would, in their march, sweep away the whole system; more especially as freedom of speech and the press, the legitimate abolisher, not only of the vice of slavery, but of every other that time should reveal in our institutions or practice, had been fully secured to the people. Again, power was conferred on congress to put a stop to the African slavetrade, without which it was thought at that time to be impossible to maintain slavery as a system on this continent, so great was the havoc on human life. Authority was also granted to congress to prevent the transfer of slaves, as articles of commerce, from one State to another, and the introduction of slavery into the Territories.” All this was crowned by the power to prevent the admis
* The cultivation of cotton was almost unknown in the United States before 1787. It was not till two years afterwards that it began to be raised and exported. (See report of the secretary of the treasury, July 29, 1836.)
*The following is the opinion of the late Chief Justice Jay as to this part of the constitutional question. It is contained in a letter