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Votes in the House-Compromise Bill passed
23 to 39
HISTORY OF THE QUESTION
SLAVERY EXTENSION OR RESTRICTION.
MAINLY BY DOCUMENTS.
SLAVERY IN THE COLONIES.
HUMAN Slavery, as it existed in the pagan world, and especially in the infancy, vigor, and decline of Greek and Roman civilization, gradually died out in the advancing light of Christianity. When Columbus opened the New World to European enterprise and settlement, the serfdom of Russia and Hungary, and the mild bondage of Turkey -each rather an Asiatic or Scythian than a European power-were the last remaining vestiges of a system which had pervaded, and mastered, and ruined, the vast empires of Alexander and the Cæsars. The few ignorant and feeble dependents elsewhere held in virtual bondage by force rather of custom than of positive law, serve rather to establish than disprove this general statement.
Africa, whom their eternal wars and marauding invasions were constantly exposing to captivity and sale as prisoners of war, and who, as a race, might be said to be inured to the hardships and degradations of Slavery by an immemorial experience. The suggestion was unhappily approved, and the woes and miseries of the few remaining Aborigines of the islands known to us as "West Indies," were inconsiderably prolonged by exposing the whole continent for unnumbered generations to the evils and horrors of African slavery. The author lived to perceive and deplore the consequences of his expedient.
The sanction of the Pope having been obtained for the African slave-trade by representations which invested it with a look of philanthropy, Spanish and Portuguese mercantile avarice was readily enlisted in its prosecution, and the whole continent, north and south of the tropics, became a slave-mart before the close of the sixteenth century.
Lust of gold and power was the main impulse of Spanish migration to the marvelous regions beyond the Atlantic. And the soft Holland, a comparatively new and Proand timid Aborigines of tropical America, testant state, unable to shelter itself from the especially of its islands, were first compelled reproaches of conscience and humanity beto surrender whatever they possessed of the hind a Papal bull, entered upon the new trafprecious metals to the imperious and grasp-fic more tardily; but its profits soon overbore ing strangers; next forced to disclose to those all scruples, and British merchants were not strangers the sources whence they were most proof against the glittering evidences of their readily obtained; and finally driven to toil success. But, the first slave-ship that ever and delve for more, wherever power and greed entered a North American port for the sale supposed they might most readily be obtained. of its human merchandise, was a Dutch tradFrom this point, the transition to general en- ing-vessel which landed twenty negro bondslavement was ready and rapid. The gentlemen at Jamestown, the nucleus of Virginia, and indolent natives, unaccustomed to rug-almost simultaneously with the landing of the ged, persistent toil, and revolting at the harsh Pilgrims of the Mayflower on Plymouth rock, and brutal severity of their Christian mas- Dec. 22d, 1620. ters, had but one unfailing resource-death. Through privation, hardship, exposure, fatigue and despair, they drooped and died, until millions were reduced to a few miserable thousands within the first century of Spanish rule in America.
The Dutch slaver had chosen his market with sagacity. Virginia was settled by CAVALIERS-gentlemen-adventurers aspiring to live by their w wits and other men's labor
with the necessary complement of followers and servitors. Few of her pioneers cherA humane and observant priest (Las Casas,) ished any earnest liking for downright, perwitnessing these cruelties and sufferings, was sistent, muscular exertion; yet some exmoved by pity to devise a plan for their ter- ertion was urgently required to clear away mination. He suggested and urged the poli- the heavy forest which all but covered the cy of substituting for these feeble and perish- soil of the infant colony, and grow the Toing "Indians" the hardier natives of Western | bacco which easily became its staple export,
by means of which nearly everything required by its people but food was to be paid for in England. The slaves, therefore, found ready purchasers at satisfactory prices, and the success of the first venture induced others; until not only Virginia but every part of British America was supplied with African slaves.
This traffic, with the bondage it involved, had no justification in British nor in the early colonial laws; but it proceeded nevertheless, much as an importation of dromedaries to replace with presumed economy our horses and oxen might now do. Georgia was the first among the colonies to resist and remand it in her original charter under the lead of her noble founder-Governor, General Oglethorpe; but the evil was too formidable and inveterate for local extirpation, and a few years saw it established, even in Georgia; first evading or defying, and at length molding and transforming the law.
It is very common at this day to speak of our revolutionary struggle as commenced and hurried forward by a union of free and slave colonies; but such is not the fact. However slender and dubious its legal basis, Slavery existed in each and all of the colonies that united to declare and maintain their independence. Slaves were proportionately more numerous in certain portions of the South; but they were held with impunity throughout the North, advertised like dogs or horses, and sold at auction, or otherwise, as chattels. Vermont, then a territory in dispute between NewHampshire and New-York, and with very few civilized inhabitants, mainly on its southern and eastern borders, is probably the only portion of the revolutionary confederation never polluted by the tread of a slave.
had them set at liberty. The first Continental Congress which resolved to resist the usurpations and oppressions of Great Britain by force, had already declared that our struggle would be "for the cause of human nature," which the Congress of 1776, under the lead of Thomas Jefferson, expanded into the noble affirmation of the right of "all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" contained in the immortal preamble to the Declaration of Independence. A like averment that all men are born free and equal.' was in 1780 inserted in the Massachusetts Bill of Rights; and the Supreme Court of that State, in 1783, on an indictment of a master for assait and battery, held this declaration a bar to slaveholding henceforth in the state.
A similar clause in the second Constitution of New-Hampshire, was held by the courts of that State to secure freedom to every child, born therein after its adoption. Pennsylvania, in 1780, passed an act prohibiting the further introduction of slaves and securing freedom to all persons born in that State thereafter. Connecticut and Rhode Island passed similar acts in 1784. Virginia, 1778, on motion of Mr. Jefferson, prohibited the further importation of slaves; and in 1782, removed all legal restrictions on emancipation: Maryland adopted both of these in 1783. North Carolina, in 1786, declared the introduction of Slaves into that state" of evil consequences and highly impolitic," and imposed a duty of £5 per head thereon. New-York and New-Jersey followed the example of Virginia and Maryland, including the domestic in the same interdict with the foreign slave trade. Neither of these States, however, declared a general emancipation until many years thereafter, and Slavery did not wholly cease in New-York until about 1830, nor in New-Jersey till a much, later date. The distinction of free and slave States, with the kindred assumption of a natural antagonism between the North and South, was utterly
unknown to the men of the Revolution.
The spirit of liberty, aroused or intensified by the protracted struggle of the colonists against usurped and abused power in and the mother country, soon found itself engaged in natural antagonism against the current form of domestic despotism. "How shall we complain of arbitrary or unlimited power Before the Declaration of Independence, exerted over us,. while we exert a still more but during the intense ferment which preceddespotic and inexcusable power over a de-ed it, and distracted public attention from pendent and benighted race?" was very fair- everything else, Lord Mansfield had rendered ly asked. Several suits were brought in his judgment from the King's Bench, which Massachusetts where the fires of liberty expelled Slavery from England, and ought to burnt earliest and brightest to test the legal have destroyed it in the colonies as well. right of slaveholding; and the leading Whigs The plaintiff in this famous case gave their money and their legal services to James Somerset, a native of Africa, carsupport these actions, which were generally, ried to Virginia as a slave, taken thence on one ground or another, successful. Efforts by his master to England, and there infor an express law of emandation, however, cited to resist the claim of his master to failed even in Massachusetts; the Legislature, his services, and assert his right to liberty. doubtless, apprehending that such a measure, by alienating the slaveholders, would increase the number and power of the Tories; but in 1777, a privateer having brought a lot of captured slaves into Jamaica, and advertised them for sale, the General Court, as the legislative assembly was called, interfered and
In the first recorded case, involving the legality of modern slavery in England, it was held (1697) that negroes, "being usually bought and sold among merchants as merchandise, and also being infidels, there might be a property in them sufficient to maintain trover." But this was overruled by Chief Jus
tice Holt from the King's Bench (1697,) rul- | claim to spacious dominions outside of their ing that "so soon as a negro lands in England proper boundaries; while New-Hampshire he is free ;" and again, (1702) that "there is no such thing as a slave by the law of England." This judgment proving exceedingly troublesome to planters and merchants from slaveholding colonies visiting the mother country with their servants, the merchants concerned in the American trade, in 1729, procured from Yorke and Talbot, the Attorney General and Solicitor General of the Crown, a written opinion that negroes, legally enslaved else where, might be held as slaves in England, and that even baptism was no bar to the master's claim. This opinion was, in 1749, held to be sound law by Yorke (now Lord Hard wicke), sitting as Judge, on the ground that, if the contrary ruling of Lord Holt were upheld, it would abolish slavery in Jamaica or Virginia as well as in England; British law being paramount in each. Thus the law stood until Lord Mansfield, in Somerset's case, reversed it with evident reluctance, and after having vainly endeavored to bring about an accommodation between the parties. When delay would serve no longer, and a judgment must be rendered, Mansfield declared it in these memorable words:
(save in Vermont), Rhode Island, New-Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and South Carolina, possessed no such boasted resources to meet the war-debts constantly augmenting. They urged, therefore, with obvious justice, that these unequal advantages ought to be surrendered, and all the lands included within the territorial limits of the Union, but outside of the proper and natural boundaries of the several States, respectively, should be ceded to, and held by, Congress, in trust for the common benefit of all the States, and their proceeds employed in satisfaction of the debts and liabilities of the Confederation. This reasonable requisition was ultimately, but with some reservations, responded to. Virginia reserved a sufficiency beyond the Ohio to furnish the bounties promised to her revolutionary officers and soldiers. Connecticut, a western reserve, since largely settled from the parent State. Massachusetts reserved five millions of acres, located in Western New York, which she claimed to be entitled by her charter to own. In either of these cases, the fee only was reserved, the sovereignty being surrendered.
"We cannot direct the law; the law must diThe cessions were severally made during, rect us. *** The state of Slavery is of such a or directly after, the close of the Revolutionnature that it is incapable of being introduced on ary War. And one of the most obvious duany reasons, moral or political, but only by posi-ties devolved on the Continental Congress, tive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself whence it was created, is erased from the memory. It is so odious that nothing can be sufficient to support it but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England, and therefore the black must be discharged."
The natural, if not necessary, effect of this decision on Slavery in these colonies, had their connection with the mother country been continued, is sufficiently obvious.
SLAVERY UNDER THE CONFEDERATION.
which held its sessions in Philadelphia directly after the close of that exhausting struggle, was the framing of an act or ordinance for the government of the vast domain thus committed to its care and disposal.
The responsible duty of framing this ordinance was devolved by Congress on a Select Committee, consisting of Mr. Jefferson of Va. (Chairman), Chase of Md., and Howell of R. I.; who in due time reported a plan for the government of the Western Territory, contemplating the whole region included within our boundaries west of the old thirteen States, and as far south as our 31st degree of North latitude; territory as yet partially ceded to the THE disposition or management of un- Confederation, but which was expected to be peopled territories, pertaining to the thirteen so, and embracing several of our present Slave recent colonies now confederated as inde- States. This plan contemplated the ultimate pendent States, early became a subject of division of this territory into seventeen States, solicitude and of bickering among those eight of them situated below the parallel of States, and in Congress. By the terms of the Falls of the Ohio (now Louisville), and their charters, some of the colonies had an in-nine above it. Among other rules reported definite extension westwardly, and were only from this Committee by Mr. Jefferson, for limited by the power of the grantor, Many the government of this vast region, was the of these charters conflicted with each other following: the same territory being included within the limits of two or more totally distinct colonies. As the expenses of the Revolutionary struggle began to bear heavily on the resources of the States, it was keenly felt by some that their share in the advantages of the expected triumph, would be less than that of others. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, laid
"That after the year 1800, of the Christian era, there shall be neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been convicted to be personally guilty."
April 19th, 1784.-Congress having the aforesaid Report under consideration, Mr. Spaight, of N. C., moved the striking out of