The Fugitive Bill.
The bill prohibiting the officers and citizens of Ohio from taking any steps to assist in the recapture of fugitive slaves was defeated yesterday in the House on its final passage.
It was probably killed by its friends insisting on too much. To our mind, under the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, it would be unconstitutional to pass a law prohibiting private persons, not acting in any official character, from assisting the slave owner, if their sense of duty would permit them to do it. That the legislature has the right to prohibit the Justices of the Peace, Judges, Constables, &c., from acting in their judicial capacity in this business, we think is clear. The United States Court has decided, very properly, that Congress can pass no law, and compel the State officers to enforce it. The decision that they may act or not, as they saw fit, it as far as they have gone. Under the act of 1793 the officers of our State were empowered to issue warrants, and try the right of a master to his fugitive slave. With no prohibition against it, our Justices of the Peace may act, if they see proper. They are not obliged to act. They may or they may not, just as their sense of right or propriety dictates. There is no obligation on them to do so.
We congress we have felt at times very much like favoring a bill prohibiting our officers from acting under this law of Congress. We are ready and willing to carry out the “compromises” of the Constitution. But we are not willing to submit to all kinds of indignity from the South, and at the same time continue to proffer to do what we are not obliged to do by the federal compact. When we see the citizens of Massachusetts taken from a ship in Charleston or New Orleans, and imprisoned because they happen to be colored, and when they are charged or suspected of no other crime, then we feel that the South does not respect the rights of the North. And when Massachusetts sees fit to remonstrate against this outrage, and wishes, in a peaceable, friendly manner to test this question before the Supreme Court, and sends one of her oldest and most respectable citizens to Charleston to bring the subject in a legal, proper way before the U.S. Court; when this citizen is surrounded by a mob, headed by the State authorities, and is ordered to leave the city and State in twenty-four hours, or suffer the consequences; we say when we see and remember all this, we did and do feel that the time for doing something at the North had arrived. So thought many of the Northern States, and many of them have passed laws prohibiting their officers from acting under the law of Congress. If the Southern States do not like this, then they have only to thank themselves for it.
We do not pretend to say that the present is the best time to bring the subject up, and we have nothing to say about many of the features of the bill to which we allude. It is our desire and wish that the different parts of the Union may hereafter pay a proper regard to the rights of other parts, and thus give no occasion for bad feelings and retaliatory action. But until this is done, until some of the Southern States will ease this continued assault upon the right of the North, and practical, open disregard of the “compromises” of the Constitution, they cannot expect that the Northern States will remain mute and inactive. Let the South perform their part in good faith, and we can assure them that there will be no such measures required or attempted. Let them continue this aggression, and the North will resist it.