The Compromise-The Fugitive Bill

    Source citation
    "The Compromise-The Fugitive Bill," Charleston (SC) Mercury, May 15, 1850, p. 2.
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    Charleson (SC) Mercury
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    The Compromise-The Fugitive Bill
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    Date Certainty
    Zak Rosenberg
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    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    The Compromise-The Fugitive Bill.

    We briefly and imperfectly noticed two of the features of MR. CLAY's scheme, when we published his report. The immediate admission of California,-a so-called State, formed in contempt of all law and reason-and the dismemberment of Texas, proposed under a manifest threat, that, if she will not consent to sell her territory, the United States will take it from her without payment: these two features of the plan stand out in bolder relief than the others, and naturally first strike the attention. We shall have occasion to say much of them hereafter..

    But, there is another matter not so much on the surface, to which we now call attention. It is of the most serious import, though it is shuffled over as if a mere matter of form in the report, and has been studiously kept in the background by the letterwriters in Washington. The Committee of Thirteen reported back MR. MASON's bill for the recovery of the fugitive slaves, with an amendment providing that the slave, on his return to the State from which he fled, may claim from the master a trial by jury on the question of his right of property. And the master, as a condition on which he is allowed to take back his slave, is to give bonds that he will submit the matter to such trial. The pretext for such legislation is to prevent the kidnapping of free colored persons. Yet the Committee over that no instance of that offence has ever come to their knowledge, and they manifestly believe it one of the many shams under which Abolition carries on its war against the property of the South. MR. UNDERWOOD of Ky. in the Senate a few days ago, exposed this pretext of kidnapping to merited contempt, and showed how absurd it was to suppose that men would go off on a distant expedition, to commit an outrage equally abhorrent to the opinion and the laws of the South and North, with the most slender chance of succeeding in the first instance, and quite as little of securing their prize in the second. He did not believe such a thing had ever been done, nor do we, nor do the Abolitionists; but it serves the latter as a point of attack, and the more dishonest it is, the better it suits both their spirit and their purposes.

    But the new project gives a substantive importance to this sham, and makes it the basis of a most extraordinary exercise of power on other part of Congress. They propose to give rights to the slave, and to fix conditions to the ownership of the master. They penetrate within the States, and seize upon the relation of the master and slave as subject to their jurisdiction, and liable to be modified by their legislation. This is the first step, and the whole North-the majority in both Houses-urging them on in a career of aggressive measures.

    The right of the States to the exclusive control of the relation of master and slave within their own borders, is directly invaded by this proposed law. If the Southern States submit to it they allow to be established a precedent for the intrusion of Congress within their borders, and the exercise of authority over the question of slavery in its most domestic character. They surrender themselves into the power of their enemies. If this grossly unconstitutional exercise of poer is allowed, does any one suppose it will stop here? This beginning of the assertion of jurisdiction over domestic slavery; this presuming to bestow rights upon the slave, and to impose conditions to their ownership of the master, is a foundation broad enough on which to establish over us a despotism of Congress as absolute as that which turned the gardens of San Domingo into a desert, and carried the blight of poverty and vagrancy over the British West Indies. It is a distinct assertion of power on the part of Congress to regulate the relations of master and slave within the States. It is in fact letting in the North-the majority-to determine this momentous matter for us. Once give them a foothold, and we ought to know well what the consequences will be. They "take no step backward." They avow that their purpose is nothing less than the utter destruction of the domestic institutions of the South, and it would indeed be a most extraordinary instance of blindness, if we should choose this very time to invite them on by an acknowledgment of their right to legislate for us on the question that lies at the very foundation of all.

    Such, then, is the third feature of this Compromise, which is to put an end to agitation, and bring back peace to a distracted country. MR. CLAY finds that the North is very hostile to one of the plainest provisions of the Constitution, and in order to persuade them to submit to it, he proposes, as a compromise, that the South shall surrender State sovereignty, and allow the Abolitionists to legislate on the relations of master and slave within our own limits. This is "mutual concession" with a vengeance.

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