Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX B.: SUGGESTIONS TO ABOLITIONISTS. - The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second
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APPENDIX B.: SUGGESTIONS TO ABOLITIONISTS. - Lysander Spooner, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second 
The Unconstitutionality of Slavery: Part Second (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1860).
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SUGGESTIONS TO ABOLITIONISTS.
Those who believe that slavery is unconstitutional, are the only persons who propose to abolish it. They are the only ones who claim to have the power to abolish it. Were the entire North to become abolitionists, they would still be unable to touch the chain of a single slave, so long as they should concede that slavery was constitutional. To say, as many abolitionists do, that they will do all they constitutionally can towards abolishing slavery, is virtually saying that they will do nothing, if they grant, at the same time, that the constitution supports slavery. To suppress the slave trade between the States, as some propose, is certainly violating the spirit, and probably the law, of the constitution, if slavery be constitutional. To talk of amending the constitution, by the action of three fourths of the States, so as to abolish slavery, is to put off the matter to some remote and unknown period. While abolitionists are amusing themselves with these idle schemes for abolishing slavery without the agency of any adequate means, slaves are doubling in numbers every twenty-five years, and the slave power is rapidly increasing in numbers, wealth, and territory. To concede that this power is entrenched behind the constitution, is, in the minds of practical men, to concede the futility of all efforts to destroy it. And its effect is to dissuade the great body of the North from joining in any efforts to that end. The mass of men will insist upon seeing that a thing can be done, before they will leave the care of their other interests to assist in doing it. Hence the slow progress of all political movements based on the admission that slavery is constitutional. What sense would there be in placing the political power of the country in the hands of men, who can show nothing that they can do with it towards accomplishing the end for which they ask it? Abolitionists, therefore, who ask political power, and yet concede slavery to be constitutional, stand in the attitude of men asking for power for their own gratification, and not for any great practical good that they can do with it.* Let them but show that they can abolish slavery, and they can then consistently ask that the government be intrusted to their hands.†
The North, with no very important exceptions, although not enthusiastic in the matter, are abolitionists at heart. It is a slander on human nature to assert that they are not. To suppose that a people, themselves the freest in the world, having no pecuniary interests that bind them to slavery, inheriting all the principles of English liberty, and living for the last seventy years under the incessant teachings of the truth that all men are born free and equal—to suppose that such a people, as a people, are not opposed to slavery, is equivalent to supposing that they are naturally incapable of such a sentiment as the love of liberty, or the hatred of oppression. If the supposition were correct, it would furnish an argument against all further effort of any kind; for the task of radically changing human nature, for the purpose of abolishing slavery, is one quite too chimerical for rational men to engage in.
If the North love slavery, why did they unite to abolish the slave trade? or to exclude slavery from the north-western States? And why do they not have slaves themselves?
The people of the North want simply to know if they can do anything for the abolition of slavery, without violating their constitutional faith. For this alternative they are not prepared, (as I admit they ought to be, if they had ever pledged themselves to the support of slavery;) but they are prepared for almost anything short of that. At any rate, they are prepared to stand by the constitution, if it supports liberty. If it he said that they are not, the speediest process by which to bring them to that state of preparation, is to prove to them that slavery is unconstitutional, and thus present to them the alternative of overthrowing the constitution for the support of slavery, or of standing by it in support of freedom.
In a speech at Charleston, on the 9th of March last, (1847,) Mr. Calhoun gave the following estimate of popular feeling at the North, on the subject of slavery:—
He said, “They, (the people of the North,) may, in reference to the subject under consideration, be divided into four classes. Of these, the abolitionists proper—the rabid fanatics, who regard slavery as a sin, and thus regarding it, deem it their highest duty to destroy it, even should it involve the destruction of the constitution and the Union—constitute one class. It is a small one, not probably exceeding five per cent. of the population of those States. They voted, if I recollect correctly, about fifteen thousand, or, at most, twenty thousand votes in the last test of their strength, in the State of New York, out of about four hundred thousand votes, which would give about five per cent. Their strength in that State, I would suppose, was fully equal to their average strength in the non-slaveholding States generally.
“Another class consists of the great body of the citizens of those States, constituting at least seven tenths of the whole, who, while they regard slavery as an evil, and as such, are disposed to aid in restricting and extirpating it, when it can be done consistently with the constitution, and without endangering the peace and prosperity of the country, do not regard it as a sin to be put down by all and every means.
“Of the two others, one is a small class, perhaps, not exceeding five per cent. of the whole, who view slavery as we do, more as an institution, and the only one, by which two races, so dissimilar as those inhabiting the slaveholding States, can live together in equal numbers, in peace and prosperity, and that its abolition would end in the expatriation of one or the other race. If they regard it as an evil, it is in the abstract, just as government and all its burdens, labor with all its toils, punishment with all its inflictions, and thousands of other things, are evils, when viewed in the abstract, but far otherwise when viewed in the concrete, because they prevent a greater amount of evil than what they inflict, as is the case with slavery as it exists with us.
“The remaining class is much larger, but still relatively a small one, less, perhaps, than twenty per cent. of the whole, but possessing great activity and political influence in proportion to its numbers. It consists of the political leaders of the respective parties, and their partisans and followers. They, for the most part, are perfectly indifferent about abolition, and are ready to take either side, for or against, according to the calculation of the political chances, their great and leading object being to carry the elections, especially the presidential, and thereby receive the honors and emolument, incident to power, both in the Federal and State governments.”
This estimate is probably sufficiently accurate for all practical purposes. Adopting it as correct, it shows that five per cent. only of the North sympathize with the South; that the other ninety-five per cent., (seventy-five per cent. acting from principle, and twenty per cent. for spoils,) “are disposed to aid in restricting and extirpating slavery, when it can be done consistently with the constitution, and without endangering the peace and prosperity of the country.”
The South has long been teaching the North, (and more of late than ever,) how much the maintenance of slavery has to do with promoting “the peace and prosperity of the country.” The lesson is learned. The only other point is the constitution. The North have but to have their eyes opened to the great constitutional fraud that has been perpetrated upon the country, to be found, ninety-five per cent. of them, on the side of liberty. When the North are united, they will control the national legislation, and the appointment of the national judiciary. Of course they will then abolish slavery. Does not this prove that the only labor the abolitionists really have to perform, is to spread the truth in regard to the constitution? And should they not adopt such measures as will compel public attention to, and a speedy decision of, that question?
How shall they do this? Probably, the most speedy and effectual mode of awaking the whole nation to the question is, by stirring up discussions of it in the national and State legislatures, by means of petitions.
The subject admits of petitions of a variety of kinds. To some of them the signatures of a very large portion of the people of the North might now be obtained: while others would be signed only by the more thoroughgoing abolitionists.
Who would not sign a petition praying Congress to inform the people whether slavery had any constitutional existence in the States at the time the United States constitution was adopted?
Who would not sign a petition praying Congress to inform the people what was the meaning of the word “free,” in the English law? In the colonial charters? In the State constitutions, existing in 1789, in the States of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, and in the Articles of Confederation? And whether Congress and the courts were not bound to give it the same meaning in the representative clause of the constitution of the United States?
Who would not sign a petition praying Congress to inform the people whether any person, born in the country since the adoption of the constitution of the United States, can, consistently with that constitution, be held as a slave?
Who would not sign a petition praying Congress to inform the people whether the Supreme Court of the United States have ever given any, and if any, what, valid reasons for holding slavery to be constitutional?
Other petitions would be signed by smaller numbers of the people, such as the following:—
1. Petitions praying Congress to establish courts throughout the slaveholding States, in such numbers, and aided by such agents and attorneys, as may be necessary to bring the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus within the reach of every slave.
2. Petitions for the suppression of the slave trade between the States.
3. Petitions for organizing, arming, and disciplining the slaves as militia.
4. Petitions for having the next census distinguish the respective numbers of citizens and unnaturalized persons, and for basing the next representation upon them, counting the citizens as units, and the unnaturalized persons as three fifths units.
5. Petitions for the abolition of indirect taxation, and the apportionment of direct taxation among the States, counting the citizens as units, and the unnaturalized persons as three fifths.
The general question of the unconstitutionality of slavery should also be pressed upon the consideration of the State legislatures, by means of petitions. The opinions of these legislatures are important for these reasons:
1. The State legislatures choose the U. S. senators, and thus have a voice in the national legislation, and in the appointment of the national judiciary.
2. The free States, so called, are not free. They are liable to the incursions of the slave-hunter. They should be made free.
3. Several of the nominally free States have, on their statute-books, what are called “Black Laws,” which are all unconstitutional.*
It is not very infrequent for legislative bodies to ask the opinions of their co-ordinate judiciaries on important questions of law. Let the State legislatures be petitioned to ask the opinions of the State judges, that we may have the opinions of the entire judiciary of the North, on this question of the constitutionality of slavery; each judge being requested to give his opinion separately, and independently of precedents.
If only a small number should at first give their opinions in favor of liberty, it would awaken universal interest in the question.
If any considerable number, influential for their talents and integrity, should give their opinions in favor of liberty, it would change the opinions of the North on this question, as it were, instantaneously.
If they should give their opinions in favor of slavery, and should give their reasons for their opinions, their reasons will be likely to pass for what they are worth. If sound, they will stand; if false, they will expose the weakness of their position, and will speedily be swept away.
If they should give their opinions in favor of slavery, and should give no reasons for their opinions, they will thereby disclose their own characters, and indicate the falsehood of their assumptions for slavery.
In order that these appeals to Congress, the State legislatures, and the courts, may be effectual, all representatives, senators, and judges should be furnished with all the evidence on which abolitionists rely for proving slavery unconstitutional.
Senators, representatives, and judges are but the servants of the people. They all swear to support the constitution of the United States. The people have a right to know how these servants understand that constitution; and to know specifically their reasons, if they have any, for officially conceding that it legalizes slavery. They are especially responsible for the freedom of their own States, and should be held to that responsibility. These agents, then, have no right to complain at having these questions addressed to them. Should they complain of it, or refuse to answer, they will thereby furnish evidence of the necessity there was for asking the questions.
Another reason why these public servants ought not to be embarrassed at having these questions addressed to them, is, that in making their answers, they will have the benefit of all the reasons ever given in support of the constitutionality of slavery, by the Supreme Court of the United States, if they can find them.
Some timid persons may imagine that if this question be pressed to a decision, and that decision should be against slavery, the result will be a dissolution of the Union. But this is an ignorant and ridiculous fear. The actual slaveowners are few in number, compared with the slaves and non-slaveholders of the South. The supposed guaranty of the constitution to slavery is the great secret of their influence at home, as well as at the North. It is that that secures their wealth and their political power. The simple agitation of the question of the unconstitutionality of slavery will strike a blow at their influence, wealth, and power, that will be felt throughout the South, and tend to separate the non-slaveholders from them. It is idle to suppose that the non-slaveholders of the South are going to sacrifice the Union for the sake of slavery. Many of them would hail as the highest boon a constitutional deliverance from slaveholding oppressions. And when the question shall be finally settled against the constitutionality of slavery, the slaveholders will find themselves deserted of all reliable support; the pecuniary value of their slaves will have vanished before the prospect of a compulsory emancipation; and this slave power, that has so long strode the country like a colossus, will sink into that contempt and insignificance, both at home and abroad, into which tyrants, so mean and inhuman, always do sink, when their power is broken. They will hardly find a driver on their plantations servile enough, or fool enough, to go with them for a dissolution of the Union.
[* ] No one, I trust, will suppose I am actually accusing abolitionists of seeking power for their own gratification. I am only showing their political position, so long as they concede that slavery is constitutional.
[† ] If abolitionists think that the constitution supports slavery, they ought not to ask for power under it, nor to vote for any one who will support it. Revolution should be their principle. And they should vote against all constitutional parties, block the wheels of government and thus compel revolution.
[* ] If slavery be unconstitutional, all the colored persons in the United States are citizens of the United States, and consequently citizens of the respective States. And when they go from one State into another, they are “entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens” in the latter State. And all statutes forbidding them to testify against white persons, or requlring them to give bail for good behavior, or not to become chargeable as paupers, are unconstitutional