Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ings of the men of that age. In these we find strength, firmness, uprightness, consistency, and inconsistency; a desire to do right, and yet a fearful want of faith to do it; a knowledge of their position, and yet an incomprehensible indeterminateness whether they should perform their duty or not. Like Felix of old, they trembled; and yet they wished to put off the day of repentance to a more distant period. On the subject of slavery, they seemed to be well aware of its utter inconsistency with their professions, and the laws they would make ; it was on this subject alone that the sincerity of their acts can be called in question. They thought themselves, or at least pretended they were, placed between two fires, and that it was dangerous to advance or retreat. The same honest or dishonest, real or pretended, fears that exist at the present day were manifested; consequently, many of the Southern as well as the Northern delegates wished things to remain - as they were, and let time work out a cure. But, fearing the love of liberty was too strong, and that there was a power in embryo, that, if this instrument went into operation, would lay their fancied possessions in the dust, all the delegated powers were looked upon with jealousy by those who did not wish to have the relation of master and slave destroyed. The powers of the courts were scanned and commented on ; and, from what we can gather, the opposition made by Mr. Henry to this tribunal was because, in part, he feared what might be its decision, if the case of the slave was brought before it for adjudication. But, because a slave was taxed but as three fifths of a man, one thought congress viewed them as property, and not as persons, and consequently they might escape. But, as the convention would not allow the slave to be represented till his humanity was allowed, and as no legislature can turn a man into a brute, or a brute into a man, or can convert the soul of man into a chattel personal, into a thing without life or motion, so, whatever any body of men may say respecting him, he yet remains the same ; he is ruled by the same spirit, is under the same laws to his God, and is equally morally responsible to him for his conduct, and, as was remarked, equally so to human tribunals; and, if he violated the laws of society in any of its moral aspects, he was liable to be brought before their courts for judgment. If this is so, does not the consequence follow, that, to all intents and purposes, he must be considered a man, and, before human tribunals, must be considered and treated as such No sophistry can blind the eyes to this fact; and, if a man, he must be regarded as such both by our laws and our Constitution, possessing all the privileges man can possess, where no distinction is pointed out, and where none was meant to be pointed out. In presenting the reader the following extracts, we were in doubt whether it would not have been better to classify them, putting each under separate heads or chapters; but, on the whole, as there were but four points to be determined — namely, 1st. Those which go to prove the power of the courts, – 2d. Those which explain the general powers of congress, – 3d. Those which immediately speak of slavery, - 4th. Those that have reference to the object for which the Constitution was formed, in regard to the liberty of the individual; or rather the determination of the people that no Constitution should be formed that put the liberty of the individual in danger — the intelligent reader might perceive, at once, to which subject the extract belonged, and could apply it without being told ; and it might be as well to pursue the course adopted, of going through with each convention in its order, and afterwards draw up a summary of the whole, and lay it as distinctly before him as possible ; and then he might be able to judge of the conclusion as if a different course was pursued. We consider each and all of the above as great questions, and of vital importance to the community, and which should be decided. They are questions that interest every person to know ; for, upon their decision his individual rights, under the Constitution, may, or may not, be invaded. For if the rights of one individual, no matter whether he be white or black, can be taken from him, and that for no crime the man can be restrained as a slave, then may the rights of all, on the same principle, be taken away : no man is safe, no man can be safe. So far as individuals are concerned, the Constitution is a dead letter; its principles do not apply to them ; they are to be recognized as in communities, as States; and the States, and individuals of the State, if the Constitutions of the States say nothing to the contrary, may enslave as few or many of their people as they may choose. Is this so 2 We think not. These assertions might have applied, in some measure, to the Confederation ; but they cannot be applied under the

present arrangement. The Constitution, if we

rightly interpret it, has to do with the individual; and, if the community, or the State, or individuals of the State, invade his rights, the Constitution steps in, or should step in, to restore them. What say the arguments of the gentlemen in Virginia who adopted it 2 We shall see.

In the convention of Virginia, Mr. Henry asked what right the national convention had to use the words “we the people.”’ Governor Randolph answered him by saying, “It was for the people the government was formed; ” “in the Confederation they had no voice.””

Mr. Pendleton, in answer to Mr. Henry, among other observations, said,

“What was it that brought us from a state of nature to society but to secure happiness 2 and can society be formed without government 2 personify government,

apply to it as a friend to assist you, and it will grant

your request. This is the only government founded in real compact. There is no quarrel between government and liberty; the former is the shield and protector of the latter. The war is between government and licentiousness, factions, turbulence, and other violations of the rules of society, to preserve liberty. Where is the cause of alarm *.... In the same plan we point out an easy and quiet method to amend what may be found amiss.” "

* Elliot's Reports, vol. ii. p. 47. * Idem, vol. ii. p. 51.

/

Further on he says, –

“But objection is made to the form ; the expression, ‘We the people,” is thought improper. Permit me to ask the gentleman who made this objection, who but the people can delegate powers ? Who but the people have a right to form government? The expression is a common one, and a favorite one with me; the representatives of the people, by their authority, is a mode wholly inessential. If the objection be, that the union ought to be not of the people, but of the State governments, then I think the choice of the former very happy and proper. What have the State governments to do with it Were they to determine, the people would not, in that case, be judges upon what terms it was adopted.”

He then went on to show the imbecility of the Confederation, and the superiority of the Constitution over that in its effective character in forming peace, and in declaring war, and he concluded by saying, “For his part he was well satisfied with this part of the system,” including in his remarks the representatives of the States, meaning the Senate.

Mr. Lee, of Westmoreland, spoke in favor of using the expression, “we the people,” and he thought the house of representatives would be like the house of commons, in the year 1782, who resisted the will of the crown, and be able to protect our liberties.”

* Elliot's Reports, vol. ii. p. 57. * Idem, vol. ii. p. 60.

« AnteriorContinuar »