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ABOLITIONISTS - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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September 7, 1835.
Title added by Sedgwick. Text abridged.
There is a class of newspaper writers who seem to think that epithets are more powerful than arguments, and who therefore continually bestow on their opponents odious appellations, instead of counteracting the tendency of their views by temperate expositions of their fallacy. To call names certainly requires less effort of mind than to reason logically, and to persons of certain tastes and powers may therefore be the most congenial mode of disputation. But we are not aware that the highest degree of proficiency in this species of dialectics ever threw much light on the world, or sensibly advanced the cause of truth; and it may be doubted if even the fisherwomen of Billingsgate,1 who we believe stand unrivalled in vituperative eloquence, can be considered as ranking among the most edifying controversialists.
There are those, however, who widely differ from us in this opinion, if we may judge by their practise; who deem a harsh epithet more conclusive than a syllogism, and a personal allusion as comprising in itself subject, predicate, and copula. By this class of reasoners it has been our fortune to have many of our views opposed, and it is amusing to see the air of triumph with which they utter their opprobrious terms, as if each one levelled to the earth a whole file of arguments. Thus the fallacy of our views on banking was unanswerably demonstrated by calling us a lunatic; the folly of our opposition to monopolies was made manifest by likening us to Jack Cade;2 and all reasoning in support of the equal rights of man was summarily overthrown by the tremendous epithet of agrarian. The views which we have felt it our duty to urge on various other subjects were irrevocably scattered by a volley of small shot, among which the phrases “sailor actor editor,” and “chanting cherubs of the Post,” did the most fatal execution. And now, again, our exertions in support of the sacred right of free discussion, and in defence of the supremacy of the laws, are answered by a single word—by denouncing us as abolitionists.
There are persons who might be frightened into silence by the terrors of this formidable epithet; but we have something of the same spirit in us that animates those to whom it more truly applies, and do not choose to be driven back by the mere vulgar exclamations of men who wield no weapon but abuse, and who do not even know the meaning of the words they so liberally employ. The foundation of our political creed is unbounded confidence in the intelligence and integrity of the great mass of mankind; and this confidence sustains and emboldens us in our course on every public question which arises. We are led by it, not to inquire into individual prejudices or opinions; not to an anxious examination of the popular pulse on every particular subject; but to an inquiry, simply, into the abstract merits of the question, and an examination of it by the tests of truth and reason, relying on the popular wisdom and honesty to sustain the line of conduct which such scrutiny suggests. It is so in the present case. There is no terror in the term abolitionist for us; for we trust to our readers to discriminate between words and things, and to judge of us by our sentiments, not by the appellations which foul-mouthed opponents bestow. The course we are pursuing is one which we entered upon after mature deliberation, and we are not to be turned from it by a species of opposition, the inefficacy of which we have seen displayed in so many former instances. It is Philip Van Artavelde who says—
This is the sort of character we emulate.
If to believe slavery a deplorable evil and a curse, in whatever light it is viewed; if to yearn for the day which shall break the fetters of three millions of human beings, and restore to them their birth-right of equal freedom; if to be willing, in season and out of season, to do all in our power to promote so desirable a result, by all means not inconsistent with higher duty: if these sentiments constitute us abolitionists, then are we such, and glory in the name. But while we mourn over the servitude which fetters a large portion of the American people, and freely proclaim that, did the control of the subject belong to us, we would speedily enfranchise them all, yet we defy the most vigilant opponent of this journal to point his finger to a word or syllable that looks like hostility to the political rights of the south, or conceals any latent desire to violate the federal compact, in letter or spirit.
The obligations of the federal compact, however, are greatly misrepresented by those who contend that it places a ban on all discussion of the question of slavery. It places an interdiction on the discussion of no subject whatever; but on the contrary secures, by an especial guarantee, that no prohibition or limitation of freedom of opinion and speech, in its widest latitude, shall ever be instituted. The federal government cannot directly interfere with the question of slavery, simply because the power of such interference is not included among those conferred upon it; and “all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The truth is, the only restraint on the discussion of slavery is that which exists in the good sense and good feeling of the people, in their sentiments of brotherhood, and in the desire which all rational minds must entertain of accomplishing worthy ends by means every way proportioned to the object. Whoever supposes that the question is guarded by any more positive obligation than this, has very imperfectly studied both the Constitution itself, and those documents which illustrate its history, and the sentiments, motives and policy of its founders. The Journal of the Convention which framed the Constitution, and those of the several State Conventions are happily extant. If it is true that the people of the United States are forbidden to speak their sentiments on one of the most momentous subjects which ever engaged their thoughts; if they are so bound in fetters of the mind that they must not allude to the less galling fetters which bind the limbs of the southern slave; let the prohibitory passage, we pray, be quickly pointed out; let us be convinced at once that we are not freemen, as we have heretofore fondly believed; let us know the worst; that we may seek to accommodate our minds and break down our rebellious spirits to the restricted limits in which alone they are permitted to expatiate.
[1 ]A fish market in London, England, whose fish porters made it synonymous with coarse language.—Ed.
[2 ]Jack Cade led the Kentish insurrection against Henry the Sixth. See Leggett’s defense of him in “Utopia—Sir Thomas More—Jack Cade,” in Political Writings, vol. I, pp. 125–133.—Ed.