- Alphabetical List of Authors
- Note On the Texts
- Part One: Colonial Settlements and Societies
- Virginia Articles, Laws, and Orders I610–11
- The Mayflower Compact November 11, 1620
- Fundamental Orders of Connecticut January 14, 1639
- The Massachusetts Body of Liberties December 1641
- Charter of Liberties and Frame of Government of the Province of Pennsylvania In America May 5, 1682
- Dorchester Agreement October 8, 1633
- Maryland Act For Swearing Allegiance 1638: Plymouth Oath of Allegiance and Fidelity 1625
- Little Speech On Liberty
- Copy of a Letter From Mr. Cotton to Lord Say and Seal
- Part Two: Religious Society and Religious Liberty In Early America
- The Bloody Tenent, of Persecution, For Cause of Conscience
- A Platform of Church Discipline
- Providence Agreement August 20, 1637: Maryland Act For Church Liberties 1638: Pennsylvania Act For Freedom of Conscience December 7, 1682
- Worcestriensis 1776
- Thanksgiving Proclamation and Letters to Religious Associations
- Farewell Address
- The Rights of Conscience Inalienable
- Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association
- Part Three: Defending the Charters
- Magna Charta 1215
- Petition of Right 1628
- An Account of the Late Revolution In New England and Boston Declaration of Grievances: Boston Declaration of Grievances
- The English Bill of Rights 1689
- The Stamp Act March 22, 1765
- Braintree Instructions
- Resolutions of the Virginia House of Burgesses June 1765: Declarations of the Stamp Act Congress October 24, 1765
- The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved
- The Act Repealing the Stamp Act March 18, 1766; the Declaratory Act, 1766
- Part Four: the War For Independence
- A Discourse At the Dedication of the Tree of Liberty
- Letters From a Farmer In Pennsylvania, Letters V and Ix
- Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress October 14, 1774
- Virginia Bill of Rights June 12, 1776
- On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Non-resistance
- Common Sense
- The Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776
- Part Five: a New Constitution
- Thoughts On Government
- Articles of Confederation 1778
- The Essex Result April 29, 1778
- Northwest Ordinance 1787
- Albany Plan of Union July 10, 1754
- Virginia and New Jersey Plans 1787
- The Constitution of the United States of America 1787
- The Federalist , Papers 1, 9, 10, 39, 47–51, 78
- Address of the Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention December 12, 1787
- An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution
- Part Six: the Bill of Rights
- The Federalist , Papers 84 and 85
- Letter I
- Essay I
- Letter Iii
- Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments: Virginia Bill For Establishing Religious Freedom
- Speech Introducing Proposed Constitutional Amendments: Debate Over First Amendment Language August 15, 1789: The First Ten Amendments to the Constitution, Or the Bill of Rights 1789
- Commentaries On the Constitution of the United States
- The People V. Ruggles
- Marbury V. Madison
- Barron V. The Mayor and City Council of Baltimore
- Part Seven: State Versus Federal Authority
- Essay V: “brutus” 1787
- Chisholm V. Georgia: U.s. Constitution, Eleventh Amendment 1787
- The Alien and Sedition Acts June 25, 1798: Virginia Resolutions December 21, 1798: Kentucky Resolutions November 10, 1798: Counter-resolutions of Other States 1799: Report of Virginia House of Delegates 1799
- The Duty of Americans, At the Present Crisis
- Report of the Hartford Convention 1815
- Commentaries On the Constitution of the United States: a Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States
- Part Eight: Forging a Nation
- Opinion Against the Constitutionality of a National Bank: Opinion As to the Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States
- Veto Message
- Veto Message
- Commentaries On the Constitution of the United States
- Address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois: Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Newspaper Editorials: “direct Taxation” April 22, 1834: “chief Justice Marshall” July 28, 1835: “the Despotism of the Majority” March 25, 1837: “morals of Legislation” April 15, 1837: “the Morals of Politics” June 3, 1837
- Speech On Electioneering
- Speech Before the U.s. Senate (webster): Speech Before the U.s. Senate (hayne)
- Fort Hill Address
- Part Nine: Prelude to War
- Laws Regulating Servants and Slaves, 1630–1852
- “slavery” “agriculture and the Militia”
- The Missouri Compromise 1820–21
- Newspaper Editorials: “governor Mcduffie’s Message” February 10, 1835: “the Question of Slavery Narrowed to a Point” April 15, 1837: “‘abolition Insolence’” July 29, 1837
- Senate Speeches On the Compromise of 1850 Speech On the Slavery Question
- Second Fugitive Slave Law September 18, 1850: Ableman V. Booth (62 Us 506)
- Scott V. Sandford
- The Relative Position and Treatment of the Negroes the Abolitionists—consistency of Their Labors
- What Is Slavery? Slavery Is Despotism
- Kansas-nebraska Act 1856: Fifth Lincoln-douglas Debate October 7, 1858
“Governor McDuffie’s Message”
February 10, 1835
“The Question of Slavery Narrowed to a Point”
April 15, 1837
July 29, 1837
Leggett believed that his opposition to slavery was the logical extension of Jacksonian principles of liberty and equality. But his willingness to discuss the abolition of slavery and defend the rights of abolitionists caused significant problems within Jackson’s Democratic Republican Party. In New York, a small wing of radical democrats called the loco-focos went so far as to form a short-lived splinter party to support Leggett’s principles. Leggett himself sought reform within his party and refused to accept the loco-foco nomination for mayor of New York.
“Governor McDuffie’s Message”
Governor McDuffie, in his late message to the Legislature of South Carolina, has promulgated various errors in relation to the views and principles of the democracy of the middle and northern states, which might excite astonishment at his ignorance, or regret at his insincerity, did we not know that they are founded on the misrepresentations of the Bank tory organs of this part of the world. Great pains have been taken by these to persuade the people of the south, that all the violent anathemas uttered against the system of slavery, by enthusiasts and fanatics in this quarter, and all their dangerous zeal for immediate emancipation, originate with the democracy. The charge of agrarianism, also, which has with such marvellous propriety been urged against this journal, because it supports the doctrine, not of an equalization of property, which is an impracticable absurdity, but because it maintains the principle of equal political rights, seems to have excited the sensitive apprehensions of the Governor of South Carolina, and prompted him to the utterance of sentiments which we are sorry to see avowed on such a public and grave occasion, as that of addressing the legislature in his official capacity.
We must beg leave to set Governor McDuffie right on these points. In the first place, what is called agrarianism by the Bank tory presses is nothing more than the great principle which has always been maintained with peculiar earnestness by the southern states, and most especially by Virginia and South Carolina. It is simply an opposition to all partial and exclusive legislation, which gives to one profession, one class of industry, one section of the Union, or one portion of the people, privileges and advantages denied to the others, or of which, from the nature of their situation and circumstances, they cannot partake. It is opposition to bounties, protections, incorporations, and perpetuities of all kinds, under whatever mask they may present themselves. It is neither more nor less in short, than a denial of the legislative authority to grant any partial or exclusive privileges under pretence of the “general welfare,” the “wants of the community,” “sound policy,” “sound action,” “developing the resources and stimulating the industry of the community,” or any other undefinable pretence, resorted to as a subterfuge by avarice and ambition. This is what the whig papers, as they style themselves, hold up to the South as a dangerous doctrine, calculated to unsettle the whole system of social organization, and subject the rights of property to the arbitrary violence of a hungry and rapacious populace! . . .
Governor McDuffie is still more misled in his ideas of the part taken by the democracy of this and the eastern states in the mad and violent schemes of the immediate abolitionists, as they are called. He may be assured that the abettors and supporters of Garrison, and other itinerant orators who go about stigmatizing the people of the south as “men stealers,” are not the organs or instruments of the democracy of the north, but of the aristocracy—of that party which has always been in favour of encroaching on the rights of the white labourers of this quarter. It is so in Europe, and so is it here. There, the most violent opponents of the rights of the people of England, are the most loud in their exclamations against the wrongs of the people of Africa, as if they sought to quiet their consciences, for oppressing one colour, by becoming the advocates of the freedom of the other. Daniel O’Connell is one of the few exceptions, and even he, in one of his speeches, with the keenest and most bitter irony, taunted these one-sided philanthropists with perpetuating the long enduring system of oppression in Ireland, while they were affecting the tenderest sympathy for the blacks of the West Indies. Was Rufus King, the great leader on the Missouri question, a representative of the democracy of the north? and were not the interests of the planters of the south sustained by the democracy alone?
Governor McDuffie may make himself perfectly easy on the score of the democracy of the north. They are not agrarians, nor fanatics, nor hypocrites. They make a trade neither of politics, nor philanthropy. They know well that admitting the slaves of the south to an equality of civil and social rights, however deeply it might affect the dignity and interests of the rich planters of that quarter, would operate quite as injuriously, if not more so, on themselves. The civil equality might affect both equally, but the social equality would operate mainly to the prejudice of the labouring classes among the democracy of the north. It is here the emancipated slaves would seek a residence and employment, and aspire to the social equality they could never enjoy among their ancient masters. If they cannot bring themselves up to the standard of the free labouring white men, they might pull the latter down to their own level, and thus lower the condition of the white labourer by association, if not by amalgamation.
Not only this, but the labouring classes of the north, which constitute the great mass of the democracy, are not so short-sighted to consequences, that they cannot see, that the influx of such a vast number of emancipated slaves would go far to throw them out of employment, or at least depreciate the value of labour to an extent that would be fatal to their prosperity. This they know, and this will forever prevent the democracy of the north from advocating or encouraging any of those ill-judged, though possibly well-intended schemes for a general and immediate emancipation, or indeed for any emancipation, that shall not both receive the sanction and preserve the rights of the planters of the south, and, at the same time, secure the democracy of the north against the injurious, if not fatal consequences, of a competition with the labour of millions of manumitted slaves.
If any class of people in this quarter of the Union have an interest in this question, independent of the broad principle of humanity, it is the aristocracy. It is not those who labour and have an interest in keeping up its price, but those who employ labour and have an interest in depressing it. These last would receive all the benefits of a great influx of labourers, which would cause the supply to exceed the demand, and consequently depress the value of labour; while the former would not only experience the degradation of this competition, but become eventually its victims. . . .
Again we assure Governor McDuffie, and all those who imagine they see in the democracy of the north, the enemies to their rights of property, and the advocates of principles dangerous to the safety and prosperity of the planters of the south, that they may make themselves perfectly easy on these heads. The danger is not in the democratic, but the aristocratic ascendancy. The whole is a scheme of a few ill-advised men, which certain whig politicians have used to set the republicans of the south against the democracy of the north, and thus, by dividing, conquer them both.
“The Question of Slavery Narrowed to a Point”
- ————Farewell remorse!
- Evil be thou my good! By thee, at least,
- —I more than half, perhaps, will reign.
The temperate and well-considered sentiments of Mr. Rives on the subject of slavery, as expressed in the Senate last winter, when certain petitions against slavery in the District of Columbia were under consideration, do not meet with much approval in the southern states. But the violent language of Mr. Calhoun is applauded to the echo. Mr. Rives, it will be remembered, admitted, in the most explicit manner, that “slavery is an evil, moral, social, and political;” while Mr. Calhoun, on the other hand, maintained that “it is a good—a great good.”
We have a paragraph lying before us, from the New-Orleans True American, in which the sentiments of Mr. Calhoun are responded to with great ardour, and the admission that slavery is an evil is resisted as giving up the whole question in dispute. The writer says:
“If the principle be once acknowledged, that slavery is an evil, the success of the fanatics is certain. We are with Mr. Calhoun on this point. He insists that slavery is a positive good in our present social relations—that no power in the Union can touch the construction of southern society, without actual violation of all guaranteed and unalienated rights. This is the threshold of our liberties. If once passed, the tower must fall.”
Reader, contemplate the picture presented to you in this figurative language: the tower of liberty erected on the prostrate bodies of three millions of slaves. Worthy foundation of such an edifice! And appropriately is the journal which displays such anxiety for its stability termed the True American.
“Evil, be thou my good,” is the exclamation of Mr. Calhoun, and myriads of true Americans join in worship of the divinity thus set up. But truth has always been a great iconoclast, and we think this idol of the slaveholders would fare little better in her hands than the images of pagan idolatry.
If the question of the abolition of slavery is to be narrowed down to the single point whether slavery is an evil or not, it will not take long to dispose of it. Yet it would perhaps not be an easy thing to prove that slavery is an evil, for the same reason that it would not be easy to prove that one and one are two; because the proposition is so elementary and self-evident, that it would itself be taken for a logical axiom as readily as any position by which we might seek to establish it. The great fundamental maxim of democratic faith is the natural equality of rights of all mankind. This is one of those truths which, in our Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights of this Confederacy, we claim to be self-evident. Those who maintain that slavery is not an evil must repudiate this maxim. They must be content to denounce the attempts to abolish slavery on the same ground that Gibbon denounced the petitions to the British Parliament against the slave trade, because there was “a leaven of democratical principles in them, wild ideas of the rights and natural equality of man,” and they must join that full-faced aristocrat in execrating “the fatal consequences of democratical principles, which lead by a path of flowers to the abyss of hell.” If they admit man’s natural equality, they at once admit slavery to be an evil. “In a future day,” says Dymond, in his admirable work on morals, “it will probably become a subject of wonder how it could have happened that, on such a subject as slavery, men could have inquired and examined and debated, year after year; and that many years could have passed before the minds of a nation were so fully convinced of its enormity, and of their consequent duty to abolish it, as to suppress it to the utmost of their power. This will probably be a subject of wonder, because the question is so simple, that he who simply applies the requisitions of the moral law finds no time for reasoning or for doubt. The question as soon as it is proposed is decided.”
But if we shut our eyes upon the moral law, and decide whether slavery is a good or an evil with sole reference to the test of utility; if we consider it merely a question of political economy, and one in which the interests of humanity and the rights of nature, as they affect the slave, are not to be taken into account, but the mere advantage of the masters alone regarded, we shall still come to the same conclusion. The relative condition of any two states of this Confederacy, taking one where slavery exists, and one where it does not, illustrates the truth of this remark. But it would not be difficult to prove, by a process of statistical arguments, that slave labour is far more costly than free, wretchedly as the wants and comforts of the slaves are provided for in most of the southern states. So that, limiting the inquiry to the mere question of pecuniary profit, it could be demonstrated that slavery is an evil. But this is a view of the subject infinitely less important than its malign influence in social and political respects, still regarding the prosperity of the whites as alone deserving consideration. When the social and political effects on three millions of black men are superadded as proper subjects of inquiry, the evil becomes greatly increased.
But to enter seriously into an argument to prove that slavery is an evil would be a great waste of time. They who assert the contrary do so under the influence of such feelings as are evinced by the ruined archangel, in the words from Milton which we have quoted at the head of these remarks. They do so in a tone of malignant defiance, and their own hearts, as they make the declaration, throb with a degrading consciousness of its falsehood.
The position that no power in the Union can touch the construction of southern society without violating guaranteed rights, will no more bear the test of examination, than the assertion that slavery is not an evil. There is no power, we concede, in the federal government to abolish slavery in any state, and none in any state to abolish it except within its own limits. But in as far as a free and full discussion of slavery, in all its characteristics and tendencies, may be considered as touching the construction of southern society, the right belongs to every citizen; and it is by this mode of touching it that it is hoped eventually to do away entirely with the deplorable evil. It cannot always exist against the constant attrition of public opinion.
The right to discuss slavery exists in various forms. It is claimed, in the first place, that Congress has absolute authority over that subject, so far as it relates to the District of Columbia. Every state, also, has authority over it within its own limits. And the people of the United States have absolute authority over it, so far as it presents a question to be considered in reference to any proposed amendment of the federal constitution. Suppose, for example, it should be desired by any portion of the people, to change the basis of southern representation in Congress, on the ground that slaves, being allowed to have no political rights, but being considered mere property, ought not to be enumerated in the political census, any more than the cattle and sheep of northern graziers and woolgrowers. The Constitution is amenable in this, as in every other respect, with the single exception of the equal representation of every state in the federal Senate; and it is consequently a legitimate subject of discussion. Yet the discussion of this subject involves, naturally and necessarily, a consideration of slavery in all its relations and influences. Suppose, again, any portion of the citizens of a state where negroes are not held to bondage, but are not admitted to equal suffrage, as in this state, should desire those distinctive limitations to be removed. This is a legitimate question to be discussed, and the discussion of this brings up the whole subject of slavery. Or suppose, thirdly, that any persons in a free state should desire to re-instate negro slavery. The south would scarcely quarrel with them for seeking to carry their wishes into effect; yet they could only hope to do so through the means of a discussion which would legitimately embrace every topic connected with slavery, nearly or remotely.
It is by discussion alone that those who are opposed to slavery seek to effect a reconstruction of southern society; and the means, we think, if there is any virtue in truth, will yet be found adequate to the end. If slavery is really no evil, the more it is discussed, the greater will be the number of its advocates; but if it is “an evil, moral, social and political,” as Mr. Rives has had the manliness to admit, in the very teeth of Mr. Calhoun’s bravado, it will gradually give way before the force of sound opinion.
The oppression which our fathers suffered from Great Britain was nothing in comparison with that which the negroes experience at the hands of the slaveholders. It may be “abolition insolence” to say these things; but as they are truths which justice and humanity authorize us to speak, we shall not be too dainty to repeat them whenever a fitting occasion is presented. Every American who, in any way, authorizes or countenances slavery, is derelict to his duty as a christian, a patriot, and a man. Every one does countenance and authorize it, who suffers any opportunity of expressing his deep abhorrence of its manifold abominations to pass by unimproved. If the freemen of the north and west would but speak out on this subject in such terms as their consciences prompt, we should soon have to rejoice in the complete enfranchisement of our negro brethren of the south.
If an extensive and well-arranged insurrection of the blacks should occur in any of the slave states, we should probably see the freemen of this quarter of the country rallying around that “glorious emblem” which is so magniloquently spoken of in the foregoing extract, and marching beneath its folds to take sides with the slaveholders, and reduce the poor negroes, struggling for liberty, to heavier bondage than they endured before. It may be “abolition insolence” to call this “glorious emblem” the standard of oppression, but, at all events, it is unanswerable truth. For our part, we call it so in a spirit, not of insolence, not of pride speaking in terms of petulant contempt, but of deep humility and abasement. We confess, with the keenest mortification and chagrin, that the banner of our country is the emblem, not of justice and freedom, but of oppression; that it is the symbol of a compact which recognizes, in palpable and outrageous contradiction of the great principle of liberty, the right of one man to hold another as property; and that we are liable at any moment to be required, under all our obligations of citizenship, to array ourselves beneath it, and wage a war, of extermination if necessary, against the slave, for no crime but asserting his right of equal humanity—the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, and have an unalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Would we comply with such a requisition? No! rather would we see our right arm lopped from our body, and the mutilated trunk itself gored with mortal wounds, than raise a finger in opposition to men struggling in the holy cause of freedom. The obligations of citizenship are strong, but those of justice, humanity and religion stronger. We earnestly trust that the great contest of opinion which is now going on in this coun-try may terminate in the enfranchisement of the slaves, without recourse to the strife of blood; but should the oppressed bondmen, impatient of the tardy progress of truth urged only in discussion, attempt to burst their chains by a more violent and shorter process, they should never encounter our arm, nor hear our voice, in the ranks of their opponents. We should stand a sad spectator of the conflict; and whatever commiseration we might feel for the discomfiture of the oppressors, we should pray that the battle might end in giving freedom to the oppressed.
William Lloyd Garrison, leading advocate of the immediate abolition of slavery.—Ed.
Member of Parliament from Ireland, well known for agitation on behalf of the rights of Roman Catholics and repeal of Ireland’s union with England.—Ed.
Whig Senator from New York who led anti-slavery opposition to the Missouri Compromise of 1820.—Ed.
William C. Rives, senator from Virginia—Ed.
John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina.—Ed.
See his letter to Lord Sheffield, Miscellaneous Works, vol. 1, p. 349.
A reference to Jonathan Dymond’s On the Applicability of the Pacific Principles of the New Testament to the Conduct of States, the first American edition of which was published in 1832.—Ed.
Namely, the American flag.—Ed.