Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

DEFENSE OF SLAVERY.

109

cruelty and crime almost without parallel in the annals

of men.

The defenders of the institution, though in the minority in this convention, were not silent. Where was the power in the State, it was asked, to divest the owner of his title to slave property ? Every constitution and government in the land recognized the universal principle of all good government, that private property cannot be taken, even for public use, without just compensation. But independent of that, there must first be established the necessity for taking the property; either the interest of the State, or some great public emergency, or moral or political good must be at stake. Did any such necessity exist in Maryland ? Why strike down this property, which from time immemorial had received the especial care of the legislature, and protect other kinds? The market returns showed that the product of slave-labor were three times as great as they had ever been before. Had the State been blessed with a governor brave enough to maintain the rights of its people, and he had promptly sent the militia into the slave counties, no power in the United States would have interfered with slave property for a moment. It was worth more to the people of Maryland than ever before; to this property the State owed all its wealth. The President had confessed that the Federal Government had no civil authority to emancipate slaves. Why should Maryland act against its own interest? Did not the return from the Treasury Department at Washington show, that, for forty years, the aggregate exports from the South were twice as great as those from the North, and that the duties on the imports were in the same proportion ? Yet slave labor was the

1 Debates, pp. 565, 569. It was claimed by the speaker that the exports from the South from 1821 to 1861 were $3,718,027,891;

110

THE NEW REVOLUTION.

producer of most of this wealth. Why, then, dry up the sources of prosperity? The constitutional convention of 1850 had positively enjoined the legislature from interfering with the relations existing between master and slave.1

Now the spectacle was presented of a convention engaged in overturning and striking down the banners of protection, which had been thrown around this species of property. Claiming to represent the sovereignty of the State, it was undoing all that the legislation of centuries had built up. Emancipation involved more than the loss of money invested in slaves. In Southern Maryland, as every one knew, the staple product was tobacco, which could not be successfully grown, except by slave labor. There, land owners had invested vast sums of money in buildings, machinery and other material, for the production of the crop. Suddenly their slave-labor was to be taken from them. The cultivation of their most remunerative crop must cease; the land could not be turned to profitable account, and the money invested in property, buildings and machinery must prove a total loss. Nor was it true that Maryland contrasted unfavorably with the free States. Its area differed but slightly from that of New Hampshire or Vermont, yet it had more than twice the population of either.

The superior wealth and population of Massachusetts were not due to her free system of labor, but to other causes. Granting that Maryland had more white illiterates than New Jersey, it proved nothing against the

from the North, $1,838,311,381; the duties paid by the South during this period, $799,508,378; paid by the North, $392,366,065.

1 The legislature shall not pass any law abolishing the relation of master and slave, as it now exists in this State. Maryland Constitution, 1851, Article III, Section 43.

2 Debates, 576.

PRIDE AND POWER OF THE SOUTH.

111

institution of slavery, and only that New Jersey had adopted a better and more liberal system of education than Maryland. It would be well to remember that a larger proportion of the Presidents of the United States, of the Judges of the Supreme Court, of the AttorneyGenerals, of the Cabinet Ministers, and of the Foreign Ministers and the Consuls, had come from the slaveholding South. Though numerically smaller than the North, the South had filled Congress, and most of the responsible offices in the government of the United States, with men of learning and efficiency, whose official career sufficiently dispelled the illusion, that the South was the benighted region, which abolition fanatics would have the world believe.1

Moreover, Maryland was not responsible for slavery. It was older than the convention; its members might well let so venerable an institution alone. By persisting in unwarranted encroachments upon the rights of slaveholders in Maryland, the Federal Government had well nigh annulled the constitution and laws of the State. Would the convention endorse and legalize these acts of usurpation and aggression? From 1776 till 1862, Maryland, a free, sovereign and independent State, had preserved the institution of slavery intact, and had protected it by its constitution and its laws. Was it now to be concluded that the thirty-two thousand men who had voted for emancipation at the late election expressed the settled policy of the State, when, as everybody knew, more than a majority had not voted on the subject at all ??

An answer was made to all these objections. If the Federal Government had destroyed slavery in the State, then the convention could do no wiser thing than to pro

1 Debates, 576. 2 Debates, 582.

112

THE ERROR MADE BY SECESSION.

vide for the former slaves. The State would be more than compensated for the loss of her slaves, by the increased prosperity that would follow to her citizens. The economic argument lately advocated in Missouri and Louisiana was repeated. White men would immigrate into the State and develop its almost untouched resources. The rise in land values would more than compensate them for the loss of slaves. General education would raise the condition of all classes, and the backwardness of the State in learning and industry would be removed. This argument lost no weight, if for a moment the condition of the State was considered. Slaves were escaping daily in great numbers, as had been the case in Missouri. Soon farm laborers would be scarce. Would it not be better to interest the negro to remain by giving him his freedom ?

Every institution, good or bad, has had its apologists, and at the last, its death-song. Though the singing was vicarious, the song now was the same all through the border States. Secession had overreached itself. The secessionists had worked their own destruction, and slavery was dying in the house of its friends. Not content with its security in all the slave States, they must extend it over all the territories; they even had contemplated the reopening of the African slave trade. So long as they controlled the departments of the government they were willing to wield it for their own purposes. The moment the scepter passed into other hands, they took arms to destroy that which they could no longer dominate, and now, here in Maryland, the piteous cry was raised of the depreciation of slave property. Free the slaves; the State was in need of vastly more laborers than it had;

1 Debates, 592, 593.
2 See Vol. II, pp. 651-654.
8 Judge Chambers; Debates, 610.

MARYLAND ABOLISHES SLAVERY,

113

ers.

thousands of acres remained uncultivated for lack of labor

Establish schools; encourage education; compete with the free States on their own conditions. Slavery was improvident and wasteful. The very appearance of Maryland as contrasted with Pennsylvania proved this. “We have been striving to progress with a dead weight upon us,—the institution of slavery,” said a member.

“We have fallen behind, and now we have resolved that it is time to change our policy.”

At last, on the twenty-fourth of June, on the fortieth day of the convention, the vote was reached, and slavery in Maryland was abolished. Though abolition was carried by a large majority, at least thirty-five delegates were bitterly opposed to it, and laid every obstacle in its way. They knew their constituents, and the prospect of ratification was not encouraging. The friends of the amendment were equally zealous. They invoked the influence of the President, and his wishes for the success of the provision, expressed in one of the most earnest of his letters, were undoubtedly a powerful influence in its behalf.3 His generous thought was expressed in a single sentence: “I wish all men to be free."

On the twelfth and thirteenth of October the votes were cast, and the constitution was ratified by the meager majority of three hundred and seventy-five. An examination of the returns showed that the soldiers' vote, cast in the various national camps, wherever a Maryland man

1 Debates, 612.

2 By a vote of 51 to 27. Debates, p. 742. On 8th of July two delegates, who were absent when the vote was cast, recorded their vote, one for, the other against, the clause. Id., 764.

3 Lincoln to Hoffman. Works, II, 584.

4 For the constitution, 30,174; against it, 29,799; see the Official Vote, Debates, 1926.

« AnteriorContinuar »