EXTRADITION OF FUGITIVE SLAVES.- The part of Mr. Seward’s speech which seems to command the most attention in Washington and elsewhere is that on the extradition of fugitive slaves.-
The Senator says:-
“The constitution contains only a compact, which rests for its execution on the States. Not content with this, the slave States induced Legislation by Congress, and the Supreme Court of the U. States have nited [sic] virtually decided that the whole subject is within the province of Congress, and exclusive of State authority. Nay, they have decided that slaves are to be regarded not merely as persons to be claimed, but as property and chattels, to be seized without any legal authority or claim whatever. The compact is thus subverted by the procurement of the slave States. With what reason, then, can they expect the States ex gratia to reassume the obligations from which they caused those States to be discharged? – I say, then, to the slave States, you are entitled to no more stringent laws; and such laws would be useless.”
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“We deem the principle of the law for the recapture of fugitives therefore unjust, unconstitutional and immoral: and thus, while patriotism withholds its approbation, the consciences of our people condemn it.”
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“Your constitution and laws convert hospitality to the refugee from the most degrading oppression on earth into a crime, but all mankind except you esteem that hospitality a virtue. The right of extradition of a fugitive from justice is not admitted by the law of nature and of nations, but rests in voluntary compacts.”
Those who would see more can read the whole speech, as we have given it.
The sentiments were freely commented upon and fiercely denounced in the Senate, on Wednesday, by every Senator who spoke, and among them was Mr. Cass, who asked Mr. Seward “how could he take an oath to support the constitution of the United States” which had in it such an “unjust” and “immoral” provision?
To understand the compact of the constitution, we quote again Art 4, Sec 2:
“No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but SHALL BE DELIVERED UP ON CLAIM of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”
No language can be more explicit! Words cannot be clearer! Mr. Webster, in most energetic terms, as well as Mr. Clay, have set forth Northern duty and Northern obligation.
If the provision be unjust and immoral, he who takes an oath to support such a constitution takes an “unjust” and “immoral” oath, which no man ought to take, but Mr. Seward pronounces the principle of the law “unconstitutional” also, and on from which “patriotism withholds its approbation,” and which “the conscience of the people condemn.”
Nothing can be more unsafe, in civil or social life, than for men to set up their “convictions” or “consciences” as to the construction of law. The thief may have a “conviction” that property is unequally distributed, and therefore appropriate to himself what he deems his share. The man of sound conscience, while living in civil society, respects and reverences the law, and when he has doubt about it, trusts not to his erring convictions or uncertain conscience, but looks to its authoritative expounders, men of virtue and of learning, whom the laws even so respect that they and all mankind consent to yield their own constructions to them.
In this country the arbiter of law and of constitutions, even, is the Supreme Court of the United States, which is the Supreme Tribunal. To show our readers how very wrong Senator Seward is, or how very wrong is this Court, we make a few extracts from the remarks of the Judges in the celebrated case of “Prigg vs. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:”
Justice Story delivering the opinion of a majority of the Court.-“Historically, it is well known that the object of this clause (quoted above) was to secure to the citizens of the slaveholding States the complete right and title of ownership in their slaves, as property, in every State in the Union into which they might escape from the State where they were held in servitude. The full recognition of this right and title was indispensable to the securing of this species of property, in all the slaveholding States, and indeed was so vital to the preservation of their domestic interests and institutions that it cannot be doubted that it constituted a fundamental article, without the adoption of which the Union could not have been formed. Its true design was to guard against the doctrines and principles prevalent in the non-slaveholding States by preventing them from intermeddling with, or obstructing, or abolishing the rights of the owners of slaves.”
CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY.-“The master has a right peaceably to take possession of his slave and carry him away without any certificate or warrant from a Judge of the District or Circuit Court of the United States, or from any magistrate of the State; and whoever resists or obstructs him is a wrong doer; and every State law which proposes, directly or indirectly, to authorize such resistance or obstruction, is null and void, and affords no justification to the individual or the officer of the State who acts under it. The right of the master being given by the constitution of the United States, neither Congress nor a State Legislature can by any law or regulation impair or restrict it.”
JUSTICE THOMPSON.-“We know historically that this provision was the result of a compromise between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States, and it is the indispensable duty of all to carry it faithfully into execution, according to its real object and intention.”
“The Constitution affirms in the most unequivocal manner the right of the master to the service of his slave, according to the laws of the State under which he is so held. And it prohibits the States from discharging the slave from such service by any law or regulation therein.”
JUSTICE WAYNE.- “ The Constitution confers upon the owner of a fugitive slave the right by himself or his agent to seize and arrest, without committing a breach of the peace, his fugitive slave as property, in any State of the Union; and no State law is constitutional which interferes with such a right.”
“The provision (of the Constitution) was called a guarantee of a right of property in fugitive slaves wherever they might be found in the Union. The Constitution was presented to the States for adoption, with the understanding that the provisions in it relating to fugitive slaves were a compromise and a guarantee; and with such an understanding in every State, it was adopted by all of them. Not a guarantee merely in the professional acceptation of the word, but a great national engagement, in which the States surrendered a sovereign right, making it a part of that instrument which was intended to make them one nation within the sphere of its action.”
JUSTICE DANIEL.-“The paramount authority of the Constitution to guaranty to the owner the right of property in his slave, and the absolute nullity of any State power, directly or indirectly, openly or covertly, aimed to impair that right, or to obstruct its enjoyment, I admit, nay, insist upon to the fullest extent.”
JUSTICE MCLEAN.-“At an early period of our history, slavery existed in all the colonies, and fugitives from labor were claimed and delivered up under a spirit of comity or conventional law among the colonies. The articles of confederation contained no provision on the subject, and there can be no doubt that the provision introduced into the Constitution was the result of experience and manifest necessity.”
“Both the Constitution and the act of 1793 require the fugitive from labor to be delivered up on claim being made by the praty [sic] or his agent to whom the service is due. Not that a suit should be regularly instituted. The proceeding authorized by the law is summary and informal.”
The whole Bench of Judges use like unequivocal language, and it is too late in the day to question the accuracy of the general principles they have laid down.
It seems clear to us, then, that we who live under and enjoy the benefits of this Constitution are bound to obey it, and to carry out all its compacts in good faith. If we think them immoral, our only resource as moral men is to deport ourselves to some other country, where there is no extradition of slaves under the laws, and to enjoy the benefits of a Government free from such injustice and immoralities. Certain it is, that as long as we consent to live under the laws and the Constitution of the United States, we are in duty bound to obey them, not as our ever erring consciences understand them, but as understood by the legitimate and authoritative expounders thereof.
[New York Express.]