And now for THE TRUE RELATIONS OF THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT TO SLAVERY. These are readily apparent, if we do not neglect well-established principles.
If slavery be national, if there be any power in the National Government to withhold this institution,—as in the recent Slave Act,—it must be by virtue of the Constitution. Nor can it be by mere inference, implication, or conjecture. According to the uniform admission of courts and jurists in Europe, again and again promulgated in our country, slavery can be derived only from clear and special recognition. “The state of Slavery,” said Lord Mansfield, pronouncing judgment in the great case of Sommersett, “is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law.... It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law.”
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Of course every power to uphold slavery must have an origin as distinct as that of Slavery itself. Every presumption must be as strong against such a power as against slavery. A power so peculiar and offensive, so hostile to reason, so repugnant to the law of Nature and the inborn rights of man,—which despoils its victim of the fruits of labor,—which substitutes concubinage for marriage,—which abrogates the relation of parent and child,—which, by denial of education, abases the intellect, prevents a true knowledge of God, and murders the very soul,—which, amidst a plausible physical comfort, degrades man, created in the divine image, to the state of a beast,—such a power, so eminent, so transcendent, so tyrannical, so unjust, can find no place in any system of government, unless by virtue of positive sanction. It can spring from no doubtful phrase. It must be declared by unambiguous words, incapable of a double sense.
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Sir, such, briefly, are the rules of interpretation, which, as applied to the Constitution, fill it with the breath of freedom,—
“Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt.”
To the history and prevailing sentiments of the times we may turn for further assurance. In the spirit of freedom the Constitution was formed. In this spirit our fathers always spoke and acted. In this spirit the National Government was first organized under Washington. And here I recall a scene, in itself a touch-stone of the period, and an example for us, upon which we may look with pure national pride, while we learn anew the relations of the National Government to Slavery.