Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thomas Morris: "What have you to do with slavery?"

Sorry, but I can’t help giving you a bit more of Thomas Morris’s February 9, 1839 speech on slavery and the slave power.

During the course of speech, Morris addressed the contention, made by Henry Clay in his speech of February 7, 1839, and others, that northerners had no cause to agitate about slavery because it did not concern or affect them. Morris’s response demonstrates moral revulsion for the institution itself. But what is really interesting is that, using Jacksonian analysis, he in effect condemns his own party and winds up describing the domination of the federal government by the “slave interest” in terms remarkably similar to that of modern historians:
We who are opposed to, and deplore the existence of, slavery in our country, are frequently asked, both in public and private, what have you to do with slavery? It does not exist in your State; it does not disturb you! Ah, sir, would to God it were so – that we had nothing to do with slavery, nothing to fear from its power or action within our own borders, that its name and its miseries were unknown to us.

But this is not our lot; we live upon its borders, and in hearing of its cries; yet we are unwilling to acknowledge, that if we enter its territories and violate its laws, that we should be punished at it pleasure. We do not complain of this, though it might well be considered just ground of complaint. It is our firesides, our rights, our privileges, the safety of our friends, as well as the sovereignty and independence of our State, that we are now called upon to protect and defend.

The slave interest has at this moment the whole power of the country in its hands. It claims the President [Martin Van Buren, a Democrat] as a northern man with southern feelings, thus making the Chief Magistrate the head of an interest, or a party, and not of the country and the people at large, It has the cabinet of the President, three members of which are from slave States . . ..

Here, then, is a decided majority in favor of the slave interest. It was [sic, presumably “has”] five out of nine judges of the Supreme Court; here, also, is a majority of from the slave States. It has, with the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the clerks of both Houses, the Army and the Navy; and the bureaus have, I am told, about the same proportion.

One would suppose that, with all this power operating in this Government, it would be content to permit – yes, I will use the permit – it would be content to permit us, who live in the free States, to enjoy our firesides and our homes in quietness; but this is not the case. The slaveholders and slave laws claim that as property which the free States know only as persons, a reasoning property, which, of its own will and mere motion, is frequently found in our States; and upon which THING we sometimes bestow food and raiment if it appear hungry and perishing, believing it to be a human being; this perhaps is owing to our want of vision to discover the process by which a man is converted into a THING.

For this act of ours, which is not prohibited by our laws, but prompted by every feeling, Christian and humane, the slaveholding power enters our territory, tramples under foot the sovereignty of our State, violates the sanctity of private residence, seizes our citizens, and, disregarding the authority of our laws, transports them into its own jurisdictions, casts them into prison, confines them in fetters, and loads them with chains, for pretended offenses against their own laws, found by willing grand juries upon the oath (to use the language of the late Governor of Ohio) of a perjured villain. . . .

* * *

Slave power is seeking to establish itself in every State, in defiance of the constitution and laws of the States within which it is prohibited. In order to secure its power beyond the reach of the States, it claims its parentage from the Constitution of the United States. It demands of us total silence as to its proceedings, denies to our citizens the liberty of speech and the press, and punishes them by mobs and violence for the exercise of these rights. It has sent its agents into free States for the purpose of influencing their Legislatures to pass laws for the security of its power within such State, and for the enacting new offenses and new punishments for their own citizens, so as to give additional security to its interest. It demands to be heard in its own person in the Hall of our Legislature, an mingle in debate there. . . .

A power, whose character is marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to rule over a free people. In our sufferings and our wrongs we have besought our fellow-citizens to aid us in the preservation of our constitutional rights, but, influenced by the love of gain or arbitrary power, they have sometimes disregarded all the sacred rights of man, and answered in violence, burnings, and murder.

After all these transactions, which are now of public notoriety and matter of record, shall we of the free States tauntingly be asked what we have to do with slavery?

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