New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, "The Chief Justice Insane!," April 11, 1857

    Source citation
    “The Chief Justice Insane!” New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, April 11, 1857, p. 1: 1.
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    New York Observer
    Newspaper: Publication
    National Anti-Slavery Standard
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    The Chief Justice Insane!
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    Newspaper: Column
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    Matthew Dudek, Dickinson College
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    The following text is presented here in complete form, as true to the original written document as possible. Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.


    From the N.Y. Observer

    DR. CHEEVER has got ahead of the public. For some time past it has been hinted in private circles that this eccentric preacher had lost the proper balance of his mind, and on the political aspects of the slavery question had become a monomaniac. This was a charitable explanation of the extravagant and inconsistent course which he has been pursuing, in spite of the earnest wishes of many of his best friends, who were, up to a very recent period, his warmest supporters. The violence of his denunciations of political opponents was so foreign from the spirit of that gospel which breathes peace, love and good will, that no one who believes him a Christian could also suppose that he would intelligently employ the pulpit and the Sabbath for “cursing” the Supreme Court of the United States, and stirring up the people with the language of sedition and rebellion.

    But Dr. Cheever has not waited for any such explanation of his extravaganzas in his church on Union Square. He has forestalled public sentiment by solemnly declaring, over his own signature, in a public newspaper in this city, that the Chief Justice of the United States is morally insane, and that the decision of the Supreme Court is “as utterly null and void as if the judge who uttered it had been a maniac.”

    Will any one doubt for a moment that either the Doctor or the Judge is out of his mind? To enable the reader to form a more intelligent opinion as to which of the two, the jurist or the preacher, is morally insane, we copy a passage from Dr. Cheever’s decision in the case of the Chief Justice’s alleged insanity. It is rich reading, though very poor logic; indeed there is more wrath than reason in the opinions of this excited divine. He says:

    “And this decision being a decision, some men gravely argue that it has all the force of law, and is not to be controverted, but obeyed. It has no more the force of law than if the judge taking the words in half a dozen pages of the Constitution, and transposing and arranging them so as to read, ‘No minister of the Gospel in the United States shall ever be permitted to utter an opinion against any doctrine of the Supreme Court, or ever to mention the subject of slavery, or ever to speak on any topic in any way connected with politics,’ should thereupon aver that the Constitution contained that law, and should decide that it is law.

    “But perhaps some will say that there being no such word as slavery in the Constitution, the judge could not contrive such a law. But if there is no such word, there are plenty of letters to construct it; and constructive slavery is as easy as constructive treason; and the letters transposed by the judge would be just as good foundation for his reasoning, and would make it just as good an argument, and be in every way as good ground for his decision, as anything he has asserted and decided in regard to the African race, and would be just as good law, with just as good a claim to be obeyed as law. The decision has no more force of law than if the Chief Justice, having become insane, had decided that by the Constitution none but Roman Catholics could be entitled to vote for the President of the United States. It is, in fact, the dictum of a moral insanity, and of a morally insane person, and is as utterly null and void as if the judge that has uttered it had been a maniac.”

    On this extract from the declaration of a religious teacher in the city of New York, we have to remark the indecency of such language applied to the courts of the country, especially the highest court. When the Tribune applies such terms of scandal to the magistrates of the land, the effect is comparatively harmless, because the source from which it proceeds cannot be expected to supply any other, and the readers of it have become so assimilated to their teachers that it is not likely to hurt them. But from the pulpit and the religious press, from the teachers of the peaceful gospel that inculcates courteousness and truthfulness, we expect language more in harmony with that of the meek and blessed Saviour, who, even when he was reviled, reviled not again.

    But the indecency of this attack is not its chief objection.

    Dr. Cheever asserts, as a positive fact, that the Chief Justice of the United States is a “morally insane person.” Such a charge would be held libellous in any court; and the one bringing it could escape conviction only by pleading his own insanity as an excuse for the slander. Dr. Cheever’s friends may, if they please, put in that plea for him, but we do not apprehend that he will offer it himself.

    Then, on the presumption that Dr. Cheever knows what he is saying, we ask seriously, is there a man in New York who supposes that G.B. Cheever believes the Chief Justice of the United States to be morally insane? He asserts it deliberately and prints it, and with the full knowledge of the fact that seven eminent jurists out of nine concur in the said decision; and that in its most odious feature it is the same opinion pronounced by Daggett, Chief Justice of the State of Connecticut, many years ago! Now, let us resent that opinion as we may, and denounce it as unsound and unjust, and inexpedient, does it afford any good man, any honest man, any man of common veracity, proper ground for publicly charging a high judicial officer with insanity? Is it not a grave offence against the intelligence and the moral sense of this country to bring such an unprovoked and groundless accusation against the Supreme Court?

    Again, let us look at the curious reasoning of this erratic Doctor of Divinity, by which he arrives at this verdict of insanity. He asserts that if the Court should pick out scattering letters from the words of the Constitution and arrange them into words and these words into a law, such a sentence would be just as good foundation for the decision as anything now written in that instrument. We must confess that such an assertion, deliberately made by a rational man, subjects his integrity to the suspicion of those who judge him only by his public exhibitions. That the assertion is obviously foolish and false we need not say. It lacks sense to raise it to the dignity of argument, and seems to be the emanation of a man seeking to make another appear ridiculous, and happily succeeding in performing that service only for himself. It amounts to nothing more than this, that the Supreme Court of the United States, seven men of eminent moral worth, talents and learning, under the solemnity of their oaths, with the eyes of the whole country and the world fixed upon them, and with the judgment of posterity and of God before them, believe they have found in the Constitution of the United States what George Barrel Cheever did not know was in it. That’s all. On these premises the said Cheever pronounces the Court insane! Is it not barely possible that the accuser is the madman, and the judge is in a sound and better state of mind?

    In this performance of what we consider a public duty in rebuking indecorum, we repeat that if the decision of the Court had been just the reverse of what it is, and any clergyman had denounced that decision as Dr. Cheever has this, we would freely and explicitly protest against such ministerial impropriety. We are glad, indeed, that we live in a land where the law does not prevent men from the expression of their opinions, and even such licentiousness of the tongue as is exhibited in the “Church of the Puritans” is tolerated as a less evil than a censorship of the pulpit and the press. But where law does not restrain, it is right that the sober judgment of an intelligent and virtuous community should be pronounced in stern condemnation of such a public degradation of the ministerial character as is displayed by this indecent attack upon the Supreme Court of the country.

    We will see, if ever, in this city, you try disobedience. There is an army of 20,000 Irishmen and 15,000 Germans and French here (most of them having been conscripts), who stand ready to follow the new U.S. Marshal, Capt. Rynders; and there are 20,000 of us “Americans” who will look on and follow Judge Betts whenever Capt. Rynders is resisted in serving a U.S. process, or a process of the Supreme Court of the United States.

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