|Welcome to this site, the 17 February 1859 speech, "State Sovereignty — The Constitution — Slavery," by Rep. Amos P. Granger, in the U.S. House of Representatives, 35th Congress, 2nd Session, in the Congressional Globe Appendix.
This writing is one of many being reprinted in this series educating on constitutional and moral abolitionists. For a series and context listing, click here.
In the material, Rep. Granger makes references to facts then known to his audience, but now generally unknown except among historians.
In that pre-Civil War era, as the Slavery Lobby had control of the federal government and was manipulating it to unconstitutionally support slavery, abolitionists were seeking to enforce the federal and and state constitutions, by having States pass pro-freedom laws, such as "Personal Liberty Laws," against slavery.
Granger is speaking in that context.
Remarks of Hon. Amos P. Granger,
of New York,
in The House of Representatives,
The States are supreme—are sovereign—within their geographical limits, in reference to all powers not delegated to the General Government, nor prohibited by the Constitution.
Thus far [to that extent], they are sovereign against the world, and they are as much so against the Government at Washington, as against that at Paris, at London, or at St. Petersburgh; and of the extent of that sovereignty, they, the States, have a right to judge. The States have the same right to judge of the extent of their sovereignty, as the General Government has to judge of the extent of its sovereignty. Thus far they are equals. Here I quote from high authority:
Such was the true republican doctrine, enunciated by [Thomas] Jefferson, and known as the resolutions of 1798. He stood erect on that position; and there he was sustained and upheld by the American people, in the great republican [democratic] triumph of 1800.
With this clear view of her position, New York has promised, in her Constitution, to guaranty liberty to every person within her jurisdiction. If she keeps her word; if she maintains her promise; if she fulfills her obligations, as she ought to do, she will allow no power on earth to take from her fold a human being to be made a slave.
Her Constitution was made prior to that of the United States; and by it she has promised safety and liberty to all of whom she claims allegiance, all and every human being within her empire [territorial / geographic] limits [boundary / border].
She had an undoubted right to do so before the Constitution of the United States was formed.
She has never relinquished that right nor surrendered that power; and, as she claims allegiance, she owes protection in return. Allegiance and protection are reciprocal ties, and every man who owes the one is entitled to the other; and, with the ever-present writ of habeas corpus, she is the guardian of the liberty of every person, of every age, sex, or condition, regardless of complexion or nativity, who lives within her lines.
No pedigree is called for; no naturalization requisite; a foot-print on her soil seals the covenant.
And here she acts in glorious harmony with the Government of the Union.
The Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York, each for itself, in exactly the same words, declares: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” No person whatever. Says the Constitution of New York: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” in this State, at any rate. The Constitution of the United States repeats: “No person
shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” (article five, Amendments,) in this broad realm. And it further says: "The judges of every State shall be bound thereby, law of States, or Constitution of States, to the contrary notwithstanding." (Article six, section two.) Thus every judge, State or National, however elevated, who heeds not this decree, neglects his duty, forgets his oath, and disobeys the Constitution,
And does not this Constitution say at the outset, in its preamble, "that its object is to establish justice, to guard domestic or fireside tranquillity, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity?" Is that true, sir? Or is the very first—the leading and controlling sentence in the Constitution—a falsehood?
That no title of nobility, or bill of attainder, shall be passed by Congress, or any State," (section nine,) South or North, either to elevate one class of persons, or to depress another; to ennoble the one or chattelize the other; and especially not to attaint the blood of generations yet unborn.
“A bill of attainder.” A law that attaints the blood, or creates disabilities on account of parentage or birth. A law that provides that the child of a slave mother and of a free father “shall follow the condition of the mother,” and be a slave for life—and its descendants after it forever—is “a bill of attainder.” Exactly what the Constitution says, (section nine,) neither Congress nor any State shall pass.
This clause of the Constitution alone, if not violated, would put an end to this whole [slavery] controversy.
Sir, shall the son of a freeman be born and die a slave by the taint of a mother's blood—blood that flowed through hearts that ceased to beat on the battle-fields of the Revolution?
“That every family dwelling, however lowly the cottage or humble the hut, is inviolate, with its inmates, papers, and effects.” (Article four, of Amendments.) “And that the right of the people,
and all the people, to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” (Article two, Amendments.) Arms to defend their country, their wives, their children, and themselves.
Sir, is not all this enough? Shall this go for nothing. To secure to the people—and all the people—freedom, liberty, and right, against slavery, oppression, and wrong. Can words be more determinate [clear]?
Read, sir, as I have quoted from the Constitution; and if lawyers, Northern lawyers, shut their eyes, let Northern laymen read the truth and teach them law.
Sir, Congress is nowhere clothed with power to legislate for the return of runaway slaves, and pack Northern freemen for the chase, the slave hunt, for Southern masters. Mark, sir, the Constitution grants no such power.
In the language of that great good man, whose vacant chair stands in the Senate Chamber for strangers to gaze at, I repeat, "Nowhere under the Constitution can the nation, by legislation or otherwise, support Slavery, hunt slaves, or hold property in man;" and I repudiate the idea with pity and contempt.
Sir, it is the political traders of the North, the doughface traffickers of the North, that dicker with the rulers of the day, that are most to blame. The South has some excuse. They can plead precedent, habit, education; and I am not disposed to underrate their force. The North has no excuse. They can offer no plea but guilty.
If the North was as unanimous, as devoted, and half as true to Freedom as is the South to Slavery, our national troubles would vanish like the dew, and our country become what it might be—prosperous and happy, and feared and respected by the world.
Sir, nothing is plainer than is the Constitution on this subject. If politicians dare not or will not understand it, it is time the farmers, the mechanics, the manufacturers, and the laboring men, took up the
subject. They can understand it, and they will understand it right.
Judge [Chief Justice John] Marshall says, to get the true meaning of the Constitution, you must take its words. Judge [Joseph] Story says the meaning of the instrument must prevail, and its meaning must be gathered from its words, and the Supreme Court has said the same.
Sir, the Constitution of the United States is a plain, outspoken, Anti-Slavery document. Take its words, and not hunt outside of the Constitution for its meaning, and there are no two ways about it; and to prevent all doubt or cavil, the Supreme Court has established the following invincible rule: “When rights are infringed, when fundamental principles are overthrown, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness." Now, sir, to see a man who would say in sober earnest that the Constitution expresses with irresistible clearness in favor of Slavery and against Liberty, would be a curiosity entirely.
How strange and unreasonable, then, to contend that the Constitution was made to nourish and extend Slavery. Is there a single word or sentiment in that great charter of Liberty that favors it? Not a bit of it—not the first syllable in favor of Slavery.
Foremost came the Declaration of American Independence—our first great law; then the Constitution [Articles of Confederation] of the brave Old Thirteen [Colonies]; followed and backed by the Constitution of the United States; and all act together with a unity and trinity of purpose to maintain and defend the "inalienable rights of man." Rights that no mortal man nor human Government has a right to abrogate or call in question.
That Declaration, the strong foundation on which our Government stands, explicitly affirms that liberty is the gift of God, is above all price and before all law, and cannot be taken away; and the Constitution of New York, and the Constitution of the United States, with one accord, respond, "amen."
Then, sir, where has Slavery a right to show its
head? Surely not in my State—the State of New York; and equally sure it is that the Constitution of the Union bars the door against it.
Sir, has a State or the Federal Government authority or legal power to make one man a slave to another? Nobody pretends it.
Had the General Government, or a State Government, ever the right to do it? Nobody will claim it. Was Slavery allowed by the colonial charters from the British Government before we were independent? Disallowed and prohibited by every one of them, and condemned and driven out of England by the application of the writ of habeas corpus to a single slave [Somerset v Stewart], and that slave a Virginia negro brought there by a Virginia master, while Virginia was a colony of Great Britain.
Then, sir, how came Slavery here? It came here without law, in violation of law, by fraud and violence, and remains here by no better title.
And now, sir, we are called on by the ruling party, not merely to tolerate Slavery, but to legalize it all over the United States; and to do it, the whole power and patronage of the [Jame Buchanan] Administration is put in requisition. To do it, sir, the great leading interests of the country are disturbed, and the prosperity of the whole people seriously affected, while the Government itself is brought to the very verge of bankruptcy, with little or no prospect of relief while the party now in power are suffered to remain.
Sir, it is the nation, the American people, who are the sufferers; and they must interfere by the peaceful and potent remedy of the ballot-box; and, sir, I think they will interfere at their earliest opportunity [the 1860 Election].
But we are told that will never do—that would be sectional. Sectional or not, there must be a remedy.
But who made it sectional? The party in power, sir, have made it sectional.
They have taken the aggressive [offensive], and claimed for Slavery all the land that joins it.
They have urged on the trial, and now let us have the issue.
As the Chief Justice of England said in the slave case referred to [Somerset v Stewart, when hard pressed for a decision in favor of Slavery: "If you will have judgment, you shall have justice. Let the black man be discharged."
I told you on this [U.S. House of representatives] floor, in February, 1857, and I repeat it now, that Freedom and Slavery must meet face to face, and try titles; there can be no joint ownership beween them; and that one or the other must have full possession. The time of trial is at hand, and we may as well take it coolly and deliberately, for the crisis will surely come, and, perhaps, at no distant day. It is as inevitable as the march of time or the approach of death; and let us make up our minds for it, and do the best we can.
The indications, I think, are quite clear, that Freedom must rule, and if 1860 does not so decide [it did, electing Lincoln], I will confess I am "neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet," nor the grandson of a prophet.
There is not much room for argument. If we have a representative republican Government, Slavery, despotism, oppression, cannot much longer be tolerated, and much less allowed the pre-eminence. A preacher of the Gospel will hardly serve out his ten years in Maryland State prison for having had an Anti-Slavery book in his house; no other Mr. Underwood will be banished, like a traitor, from Virginia, his native home, for having been present at a Republican National Convention at Philadelphia , to nominate a Presidential candidate [John Fremon] for the Republican party to support. Wiser counsels will prevail. These things are not to be repeated.
Slavery can make no more Presidents. The present one [James Buchanan] is the last of the succession. No more Presidents that will proclaim from the Executive chair that the
Federal Constitution carries Slavery everywhere and that he will back it with the army. Our Constituition guarantees the writ of habeas corpus and trial by jury, and both must be blotted out forever, or Slavery must retire from the contest [lose], and leave for parts unknown. It [Slavery] must hereafter be content to act on the defensive, and fight on the retreat. I say this with no unkind feelings towards those of the South who may differ with me on this important and troublesome subject; far be it from me. I know they are notresponsible for its first introduction among us. It came here by toleration of the British Government, without law, while we were colonies, and has been suffered to remain, in violation of law, ever since; and until it has grown to be an enormous and alarming evil and loudly threatens the integrity of our republican institutions and the very existence of the Union.
It enters into the entire circulation of the whole system and poisons every ramification of the Federal Administration.
It has come to this, that no law can be passed, no appointment made, no contract given out, but the interest of Slavery must first be consulted. The question of admitting States into the Union has to undergo this all-controlling scrutiny.
A law—yes, sir; a law—on your statute books today, fresh from the mint, not a year old , provides that for the admission of Kansas as a free State, she must have ninety-three thousand four hundred and twenty inhabitants, and that, too, by a legally-certified census; while the same law allows her to come in [to the Union, United States] as a slave State with half that number, more or less, and without any count [census] at all.
Sir, Freedom and Slavery are so opposite, are so antagonistic, that they cannot be sustained by the same Constitution.
They cannot sit at the same table, and be nourished by the same aliment. What is meat for one is poison for the other. One or the other must perish.