« AnteriorContinuar »
serted in the Constitution. Though the word slave is not mentioned, this is the meaning of it. The northern delegates, owing to their particular scruples upon the subject of slavery, did not choose the word slave to be mentioned.”" It is to be remarked here, although this clause is so curiously worded, no further remarks were made by any gentleman in this convention: the whole article, saving these few observations by Mr. Iredell, were passed over (so says the reporter) without any other comments. It will be observed, by the comments of the same gentleman, it was South Carolina and Georgia alone that prevented the slave-trade from being totally abolished at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. Not one in the convention of North Carolina seem to have said one word in favor of slavery or the trade; an ominous silence was preserved. It was also supposed by Mr. Iredell the time had not arrived when a discussion could be had without too much irritation. Has greater “coolness * settled on the American people since that time, in regard to this subject? We think not ; but, on the contrary, the difficulties that surround it increases with our increase, and strengthens with our strength. So far from being any more prepared for relinquishing our hold on the slave, we are going backward; a portion of our people are less inclined than ever to give up their claim. Can we, however, afford to wait any longer before something should be done? Our own opinion
* Elliot's Reports, vol. iii. p. 157.
is, the American people must settle the question
now, whether they will make slavery one of the
settled institutions of the land, and alter all their
ideas as to the beneficial effects of slavery, and now
determine to call it a good, and have it extended
throughout the country; so that our laborious
farmers, our mechanics, and the persons who work
in our factories must consent not only to be called
slaves, but be so in fact, or else these persons must
arouse themselves from their stupor, and stoutly determine no slavery shall exist at the South.
There is no alternative. One or the other must
be done. A general, consent, on the part of the
working classes, to become slaves, or a general determination on their part to expel the accursed system from the land. It should be well for all
parties to understand—though this should make no difference — slavery in the United States is not now confined to the colored population, although it may be confined to the descendants, in part, of the colored race; but slavery itself is not confined to the black skin, and the question now is, whether slavery shall be extended over the North as well as over the South Will the American people answer this question in the affirmative 2 for this truly is now the question. Let it be determined that slavery is a blessing, and to be continued in any part of the country, and there is no reason it should not be universally diffused. Why not extend the blessing 2 why not bring it to the North, if it really be a blessing 2
Mr. Iredell, speaking of the power to make amendments to the Constitution, alluded to the fact that congress could not break up the slavetrade till 1808, and said,
“The subject of this article was regulated with great difficulty, and by a spirit of concession, which it would not be prudent to disturb for a good many years. In twenty years there will probably be a great alteration, and then the subject may be considered with less difficulty and greater coolness. In the mean time the compromise was upon the best footing that could be obtained. A compromise likewise took place in regard to the importation of slaves. It is probable all the members reprobated this inhuman traffic, but those of South Carolina and Georgia would not consent to an immediate prohibition of it; one reason of which was, that during the last war they lost a vast number of negroes, which loss they wish to supply. In the mean time it is left to the States to admit or prohibit the importation, and congress may impose a limited duty upon it.”"
Mr. Lenoir, speaking upon the general subject of adopting the Constitution, said,
“I think it not proper for our adoption, as I consider it endangers our liberties.””
“If there were any security for the liberty of the people, I would, for my own part, agree to it. But, in this case, as millions yet unborn are concerned, and deeply interested in our decision, I would have the most positive and pointed security.” "
In answer to the objection urged by Mr. Lenoir, Mr. Spraight, who was a member of the convention that proposed the Constitution, said,
* Elliot's Reports, vol. iii. p. 158. * Idem, vol. iii. p. 177. * Idem, vol. iii. p. 181.
“I am, for my part, conscious of having had nothing in view but the liberty and happiness of my country, and I believe every member of that convention was actuated by motives equally sincere and patriotic.”
Mr. Iredell said, in speaking of the object of government, — -
“The great principle is, the safety of the people is the supreme law. Government was originally instituted for their welfare, and, whatever may be its forms, this ought to be its object. This is the fundamental principle on which our government was founded. In other countries they suppose an original compact, and infer that, if the sovereign violates his part of it, the people have a right to resist.””
On the conclusion of the discussion in the committee of the whole, they reported the following resolution, namely:
“Resolved, That a declaration of rights, asserting and securing the great principles of civil and religious liberty, and the inalienable rights of the people, together with amendments to the most exceptionable and ambiguous parts of the said Constitution of government, ought to be laid before congress and the convention of the States that shall or may be called for the purpose of amending the said Constitution, for their consideration, previous to the ratification of the Constitution aforesaid, on the part of the State of North Carolina.””
The amendments which this State proposed were the same as those proposed by the State of Virginia, the 1st, 3d, and 16th, speaking of the natural rights of the people without any qualifications. The 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, and 18th, introduces the term “freeman * in the same manner as those of Virginia. In fact, Mr. Willie Jones said he copied them from Virginia, as, on reference to Mr. Elliot's Reports, they will be found to be. They proposed twenty-six amendments to the Constitution ; all for the purpose of laying restrictions on the general powers of congress. The proposed Constitution was rejected by a vote of 184 to 84. The result of this vote was owing, so far as we can judge in reading over the debates, and the apparent holding back of certain members of this convention, to the fear that slavery would be abolished by this Constitution. They did not want to trust it. Certain persons, though they do not appear to have said much, yet from the little we can glean from what there is reported, were decidedly opposed to its adoption, and, from the first, were ready to vote on the whole Constitution, and go home and tell their constituents they had put their veto on it. It was, however, discussed, and we have given the result of that discussion, so far as relates to the subject under consideration. The same observations will apply here that applied to the Virginia amendments, a part of which were adopted by congress and ratified by the States, a material word, however, being first
1 Elliot's Reports, vol. iii. p. 182. * Idem, vol. iii. p. 200. * Idem, vol. iii. p. 210.