Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXIII. - Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
XXIII. - Lysander Spooner, Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States 
Address of the Free Constitutionalists to the People of the United States (Boston: Thayer & Eldridge, 1860).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of all these factions, the Republican is the most thoroughly senseless, baseless, aimless, inconsistent, and insincere. It has no constitutional principles to stand upon, and it lives up to no moral ones. It aims at nothing for freedom, and is sure to accomplish it. The other factions have at least the merits of frankness and consistency. They are openly on the side of slavery, and make no hypocritical grimaces at supporting it. The Republicans, on the other hand, are double-faced, double-tongued, hypocritical, and inconsistent to the last degree. We speak now of their presses and public men. Duplicity and deceit seem to be regarded by them as their only available capital. This results from the fact that the faction consists of two wings, one favorable to liberty, the other to slavery; neither of them alone strong enough for success; and neither of them honest enough to submit to present defeat for their principles. How to keep these two wings together until they shall have succeeded in clutching the spoils and power of office, is the great problem with the managers. The plan adopted is, to make, on the one hand, the most desperate efforts to prove that their consciences and all their moral sentiments are opposed to slavery, and that they will do every thing they constitutionally can, against it; and, on the other, to make equally desperate efforts to prove that they have the most sacred reverence for the constitution, and that the constitution gives them no power whatever to interfere with slavery in the States. So they cry to one wing of their party, “Put us in power, and we will do every thing we constitutionally can for liberty.” To the other wing, they cry, “Put us in power. You can do it with perfect safety to slavery—for constitutionally we can do nothing against it, where it is.”
It is lucky for these Jesuitical demagogues that there happen to be, bordering upon the United States, certain wilderness regions, over which the United States have hitherto usurped jurisdiction. This gives them an opportunity to make a show of living up to their professions, by appearing to carry on a terrific war against slavery, outside the United States, where it is not; while, within the United States, “where it is,” they have no political quarrel with it whatever, but only make a pretence of having very violent moral sentiments.
Outside of the United States, where slavery is not, and where the United States really have no jurisdiction, the battle is made, by these men, to appear to be a real battle of statutes, at least, if not of principles. Within the United States, where slavery is, and where the United States have jurisdiction, the contest is plainly a mere contest of hypocrisy, rhetoric, and fustian, and a selfish struggle for the honors and spoils of office.
In this warfare, in which it is understood that slavery is not to be hurt, the weapons employed are mostly absurd, bombastic, and fraudulent watchwords, in preference to any constitutional principles, that might be dangerous to the object assailed. Among the watchwords are these: “Freedom National, Slavery Sectional;” “Free Labor and Free Men;” “Non-extension of Slavery;” “Down with the Slave Oligarchy,” &c., &c. All these, as used by the Republicans, are either simple absurdities, or fair-sounding falsehoods.
Take, for example, “Freedom National, Slavery Sectional.” This is both an absurdity and a falsehood, on its face; for how can freedom be national, so long as any section of the nation can be given up to slavery? “Freedom National,” to have any sense, implies a paramount law for freedom pervading the whole nation; and is inconsistent with the idea that slavery can be legal in so much even as a section of the nation. But, in the mouths of the Republicans, “Freedom National, Slavery Sectional,” means simply that, for territory outside of the United States, there is a paramount national law, that requires, or at least permits, liberty; while, within the United States, this national law is, or legally may be, overborne by local or sectional laws; and thus the entire territory of the nation be given up to “sectional slavery.”
If there be any territory, within the United States, in regard to which this assumed national law of freedom is paramount, it can be, at most, only the District of Columbia, and a few places occupied as forts, arsenals, &c., over which congress have “exclusive legislation,”—places which are but as pin-points on the map of the nation.
And yet this false, absurd, self-contradictory, and ridiculous motto, which really means nothing for freedom, but gives up the whole nation to slavery, if the sections (States) so choose, has already had a long life, as expressing one of the cardinal principles of the Republican faction.
The motto, “Free Labor and Free Men,” in the mouths of the Republicans, is as false and Jesuitical as “Freedom National, and Slavery Sectional.” In the mouths of honest men, it would imply that they were intent upon giving freedom to labor and men, that now are not free. But in the mouths of Republicans, it only means that they are looking after the interests of the labor and the men, that are already free; and that, as for the the labor and the men, that are not free, they may remain in bondage for ever, for aught the Republicans will ever do to help them out of it.
This false, heartless, and infamous watchword—for it deserves no milder description—has also had a long life, as expressing a cardinal principle of the party.
But “The Non-Extension of Slavery” is the transcendant principle of these pretended advocates of liberty. It is in this sign they expect to conquer. What does it mean, or amount to? Does it mean the non-extension of slavery in point of time? No; for slavery may be extended through all time, without obstruction from them. Does it mean that slavery shall not be extended to new victims? No; for they consent that it may be extended to all the natural increase of the existing slaves, until at least the 850,000 square miles, now occupied by slavery, shall be filled with slaves to its utmost capacity.
What, then, is the extension to which they are so violently opposed? Why, it is only this: If a slave is carried by his owner from one place to another, that is an extension of slavery!
To continue a man and his posterity in slavery through all time, in one locality, is no extension of slavery, within the Republican meaning of the term. But to remove him from that locality to another, is an “extension of slavery” too horrible for these devotees of liberty to think of.
But these Republicans, either foolishly or fraudulently, encourage the idea, that if slavery can but be confined within the space it now occupies, it will soon die out; whereas, in truth, so far as mere space is concerned, it probably has enough already for it to live and flourish in for two, three, or five hundred years.
“Down with the Slave Oligarchy,” would, to the minds of most men, convey the idea of an intention to overthrow the power of the slaveholders, by annihilating their right of property in their slaves. But in the creed of the Republicans, “Down with the Slave Oligarchy” means no such thing. It means only that the slaveholders shall not have so much influence in the administration of the national government, and especially that they shall not have so large a share of the national offices, as they have hitherto had the address to secure! And these wise Republicans imagine they can overthrow the slave oligarchy, and destroy their influence in the government, at the same time that they (the Republicans) maintain the inviolability of the three or four thousand millions of dollars of property in men, on which the slave oligarchy rest, and whence all their influence is derived.
But suppose the slave oligarchy can be overthrown, after this plan of the Republicans, what right have the latter, as consistent men, acting under the constitution, and pledged to its support, to attempt to overthrow the slave oligarchy, so long as they (the Republicans) concede that the oligarchy are not violating the constitution, by holding their fellow-men as property? According to the Republican interpretation of the constitution, the slave oligarchy are just as good citizens of the United States, exercising only their constitutional rights, as are the Republicans themselves. Indeed, there would be nothing inconsistent in the entire slave oligarchy being members of the Republican faction, in full communion. There is nothing in the political creed of the latter, that really need stick at all in the throats of the former; and the Republicans themselves, or, at least, a large portion of them, would, no doubt, be very much delighted by such an accession to their numbers.
“The Suppression of the Slave Trade” appears to be becoming one of their party watchwords. But, if southern juries will neither indict, nor convict, how is the slave trade to be suppressed? and how can the Republicans ask or expect southern juries to indict, or convict, for bringing slaves from Africa, so long as they (the Republicans) concede the right of property in four millions of native Americans? There is plainly no consistent way whatever, of suppressing the slave trade, except by giving freedom to the slaves already in the country, and all that may be brought in, and thus putting an end to the slave market. And there is, probably, no other possible way of suppressing it. Certainly, there is no other possible way of suppressing it, unless by such an enormous expenditure as the nation will never be likely to incur. “The Suppression of the Slave Trade” may, therefore, fairly be set down as another of the fraudulent watchwords of the Republican faction.
Still another specimen of the hypocrisy of this faction, is to be found in its name. It has taken to itself the name of Republican. They are great sticklers for the constitution, and many, or most, of them “strict constructionists,” at that. The word, “Republican,” is found but once in the constitution, and we are bound to presume that this constitutional party have chosen their name with reference to the signification of that word in the constitution. But do they propose “to guaranty to every State in this Union a republican form of government?”—a government that shall secure to all the citizens of the United States, within the States, the protection of the laws? And do they propose that the United States government shall ascertain for itself, independently of the State governments, who its own citizens are, within the States, that it may fulfil this guaranty to them? Not at all. So far from it, they hold, in the language of the Chicago platform, that—
“The maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and, especially, the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions, according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power, on which the perfection and endurance of our political faith depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion, by armed force, of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”
This means, if it means any thing, that the “Slave Oligarchy,” or any other body of men, however small, who may chance to get the power of a State into their hands, may reduce anybody and everybody, black and white, to slavery, without interference from the general government; and that for private persons to go to the rescue of their fellow-men, from these robbers, ravishers, and kidnappers, would be “among the gravest of crimes.”
This is giving to slavery more than it ever asked. Even the Dred Scott judges themselves set up no such claim for it as this. Their opinion admits that whites are citizens of the United States, and, because they are such, cannot be enslaved by the States. Those judges are, in fact, “non-extensionists,” and have a much better claim to that title than the Republicans; for they conceded that slavery could not be extended beyond the limits of a single race; whereas the Republicans acknowledge no such, or any other, limit to slavery in the States; or what is the same thing, to slavery in the United States.
We believe that no body even of southern men, respectable either for numbers, or as representatives of southern sentiment, have ever attempted to carry this doctrine of State Rights to such lengths, in behalf of slavery, as it is here conceded to them by the pretended friends of liberty. In fact, these men have been attempting, for years, to rival, at least, if not to outdo, even southern men, in their advocacy of this trumpery doctrine of “State Rights.” And they have at length succeeded in absolutely outdoing them. And their motive has been, that they might gain the reputation of being champions of liberty at the north, and at the same time avoid the necessity of performing any service for liberty at the south, where alone any real service was needed.
It is of no avail, as a defence for the Republicans, to say, that, in another resolution, at Chicago, they declared—
“That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the federal constitution, is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; that the federal constitution, the rights of the States, and the union of the States, must and shall be preserved; and that we re-assert ‘these truths to be self-evident,—that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ ”
It is of no avail that they declare these principles, in one breath, when, in the next, they declare the unlimited right of the States to reduce men to bondage. That they should assert such opposite principles, only proves what unblushing hypocrites and liars they are; and that they are ready to assert any principles whatever, from the extreme of liberty, to the extreme of slavery, if they can thereby conciliate or deceive the two opposite wings of their faction, and keep them together until their object of gaining possession of the government of the country shall be attained.
We have recently been told, on high Republican authority, that slavery is a “five-headed enormity.” Well, be it so. How do the Republicans propose to combat this “five-headed enormity?” We think we have shown that they propose to combat it only by an imposture, that is at least twelve-headed. This twelve-headed imposture consists of these twelve separate impostures, to wit:—
1. The imposture of “Freedom National, and Slavery Sectional.” That is to say, national freedom outside of the nation, and sectional slavery all over the nation itself, if the separate sections (States) shall so choose.
2. The imposture of “Free Labor and Free Men.” That is to say, seeking the interests alone of the labor and the men, that are already free; and leaving the labor and the men, that are not free, to their fate.
3. The imposture of “Non-Extension of Slavery.” That is to say, extending slavery through all time, and to as many new victims as the States respectively may choose; and “non-extending” it only by not removing the slaves from one place to another; but confining them within the narrow precincts of 850,000 square miles, where it is to be presumed, they will soon die out from compression, suffocation, or some other equally probable cause.
4. The imposture of “Down with the Slave Oligarchy.” That is to say, maintaining the slaveholders’ right of property in their slaves, but depriving them of the political influence which that property naturally gives them.
5. The imposture of “The Suppression of the Slave Trade.” That is to say, the suppression of the slave trade by statutes, which slaveholding juries are expected to execute; the suppression of the slave trade, while the slave markets are kept open; the suppression of the slave trade in native Africans, while maintaining the slavery of native Americans.
6. The imposture of a party, calling itself “Republican,” and professing to be a strictly constitutional party; and yet refusing to perform the only duty which the constitution enjoins under the specific name of “Republican.”
7. The imposture of declaring that the constitution of the United States can be “the supreme law of the land,” and yet have no effect in fixing the political status of the people.
8. The imposture of “State Rights.” That is to say, the imposture of declaring that the States can reduce everybody, or anybody, to slavery, and thus deprive them of all rights under the national government; and yet the national government have no right to interfere for their protection.
9. The imposture of assuming that a government, which purports to be distinctly the government of the United States, and of no other country or people on earth, should have (as the Republicans claim) so much more political power over countries and peoples outside of the United States, than it has over those within the United States.
10. The imposture of assuming that the Republicans or any body else can make great conquests for liberty, and at the same time do nothing at all to the injury of slavery.
11. The consummate imposture of supposing that rhetoric, and fustian, and bombast, are the only weapons necessary to rid the earth of tyrants.
12. The transcendent imposture of supposing that the Republican party itself is, or ever has been, any thing else than an imposture.
We could probably find still other “heads” of this Republican imposture, if we had leisure and inclination to search for them. But, however many we might find, we should undoubtedly find them all filled with the same kind of emptiness as those we have enumerated.
But infidelity to their own convictions of the true character of the constitution of the United States, in its relation to slavery, is the crowning inconsistency, hypocrisy, and crime of large numbers, at least, of the Republican faction.
There is no reason to doubt that very large numbers of that wing of the party, which is sincerely favorable to liberty, including a due proportion of their public men, believe that the constitution of the United States is not only free itself from the stain of slavery, but that it gives liberty to all “the people of the United States,” “any thing in the constitutions or laws of the States to the contrary notwithstanding.”
Of the public men, who hold this belief, there is much evidence before the public, tending to prove—probably sufficient rationally to prove—that William H. Seward is one; that such has been his belief for many years; and that he has intended to avow it, and act upon it, so soon as he could do so with safety to his political aspirations. Nevertheless, such was the unprincipled character of the faction on whom he relied for his aggrandizement, and such the unprincipled character of the man himself (notwithstanding he has been supposed to combine more ability, courage, and integrity, than any other man of the faction) that, on the 29th of February last, he was weak and wicked enough, in view of his political exigencies, not only to ignore all constitutional opinions favorable to liberty, but virtually to ignore all the moral sentiments he had ever professed on the subject. With a deliberate heartlessness, so monstrous as to be disgusting, he treated of four millions of human beings—having the same natural rights with himself—and having also, in his own estimation (as we think) equal political rights with himself, under the constitution he had sworn to support—we say he heartlessly treated of these four millions of men, and their posterity, as so much capital—not, perhaps, the best form of capital—but whether, or not, the best form of capital, was for the owners to judge, and for experience to determine. And if, before this experiment should be closed, anybody should presume to recognize them as men, and attempt to convert them from capital into men; or recognize them as citizens of the United States, and go to their rescue (as any one, on the hypothesis of their being such citizens, might legally do) such a person, said Mr. Seward, must necessarily, and may justly, be hung.
Thus this shameless man stood out, and stripped himself before the eyes of all people, and labored, in their presence, to cover himself all over with this moral and political filth, in order to deaden the hated odors of liberty, humanity, and justice, which he feared might be still clinging to him, as relics of his former professions (and principles, if he ever had any), and thereby fit himself, if possible, to become the candidate of his faction. And the infamous character of the faction itself is to be inferred from the fact, that all this self-defilement, on his part, was unsuccessful to secure for him their confidence. They feared that at least the smell of liberty might still be upon him; and, therefore, fixed their choice upon one, who, if not more clear of all real love for freedom, was at least less suspected of any such disqualification.
What we have supposed to be true of Mr. Seward, we have good reason to believe to be also true of several, perhaps many, other Republican members of congress, viz., that, believing the slaves in this country to be, in the view of the constitution of the United States, full citizens of the United States, equally with themselves, they nevertheless, for the sake of gaining power, publicly acknowledge and declare their enslavement to be constitutional, and that the general government has no authority to liberate them.
We think the friends of liberty, in every congressional district, should look sharply after their representatives on this point. We do not wish to send men to congress, who will belie the constitution, they swear to support. We do not even wish to send them there to give us essays on the moral nature of slavery. We understand that matter already. But, as John Brown would say, we want men there, who, believing the constitution gives liberty to all, will put the thing through.
We understand the reasons given, in private, by these men, why they do not declare that slavery is unconstitutional, and that the general government has power to abolish it, to be, That the people are not ready for it! That the Republicans must first getpossession of the government! That is to say, these men must persist in their false asseverations, that the general government has no power to abolish slavery; that they, if placed in possession of that government, never will abolish it; but will, on the contrary, sustain it in the States where it is—they must persist in these asseverations, until they get the general government into their hands; then, as they wish it to be inferred, they will avow the fraud by which they obtained their power; will take it for granted that the people are ready to be informed what the constitutional law of the country really is; and will proceed to put it into execution, by giving liberty to all!
Spirits of Hampden, and Pym, and Sidney, and Elliot; of Otis, and Jefferson, and the Adamses! Did you, in the full possession of freedom of speech and the press; with steam and electricity to carry your words to the people; with boundless wealth, the moral sentiments of the world, and the constitutional law of your countries, on your side—did you, under such circumstances as these, resist tyranny, by asserting it to be legal, and swearing that you would support it, where it prevailed? and declaring that you would only oppose its extension into new regions? Did you do all this under the pretence that the people were not ready for the truth? that you must get possession of all the high places of power, before you could do or say any thing for freedom? and that, when you should have obtained these places, you would declare the frauds and perjuries you had committed to gain them? and would then become traitors to tyranny, and faithful to freedom? Was it by such ways as these, that you prepared the hearts of the people to stand by you in the great struggles which you saw before you? Or did you not rather, in the midst of poverty; with feeble means of communication and concert; and with dungeons and scaffolds before your eyes, proclaim, with all your strength, that tyranny, in its veriest strongholds, was but an usurpation? confident in the truth, that, next to the law of nature, the constitutional law of your countries was the strongest weapon you could use in behalf of liberty? and that fraud, and falsehood, and perjury were instruments as useless and suicidal as they were base?
Tell us, also, are the men we now have among us, the Sewards, and Chases, and Sumners, and Greeleys, and Lincolns, and Hales—are these, and such men as these, your legitimate successors? If they are, why have not mankind spit upon your memories?