Page images
PDF
EPUB

and have been contented, prosperous, and happy. Their trade with the rest of the world has rapidly increased, and thus every commercial nation has shared largely in their successful progress. I shall now proceed to take the oath prescribed by the Constitution, while humbly invoking the blessing of Divine Providence on this great people.

[merged small][ocr errors]

STEVENS

HADDEUS STEVENS, known as the “Great Commoner,” was born at Danville, Vermont, in 1792. Having graduated from Dartmouth College, he removed to Pennsylvania in 1814, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. He was a member of the State Legislature of Pennsylvania during five of the years 1833–41, and was a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1836. Having removed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1842, he was elected to Congress as a Whig in 1848, and re-elected in 1850. During his term of office in the House of Representatives he opposed the compromise measures advocated by Henry Clay in 1850, especially the Fugitive Slave Law. Stevens practiced law at Lancaster from 1853 to 1858, when he was returned to Congress as a Republican, and served continuously in the popular branch thereof until his death in Washington in August, 1868. During the last nine years of his life he was one of the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, and toward the end gained such distinction as to be the virtual dictator of that body. He was the principal champion of the reconstruction methods which were ultimately applied in the seceding States, and it was he who mainly organized the impeachment of President Johnson.

AGAINST WEBSTER AND NORTHERN COMPROMISERS

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, JUNE ro, 1850

ANTE, by actual observation, makes hell consist of nine circles, the punishments of each increasing in intensity over the preceding. Those doomed to the first circle are much less afflicted than those in the ninth, where are tortured Lucifer and Judas Iscariot—and I trust, in the next edition, will be added, the traitors to liberty. But notwithstanding this difference in degree, all,

from the first circle to the ninth, inclusive, is hell—cruel, desolate, abhorred, horrible hell! If I might venture to make a suggestion, I would advise these reverend perverters of Scripture to devote their subtlety to what they have probably more interest in—to ascertaining and demonstrating (perhaps an accompanying map might be useful) the exact spot and location where the most comfort might be enjoyed—the coolest corner in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone! But not only by honorable gentlemen in this House, and right honorable gentlemen in the other, but throughout the country, the friends of liberty are reproached as “transcendentalists and fanatics.” Sir, I do not understand the terms in such connection. There can be no fanatics in the cause of genuine liberty. Fanaticism is excessive zeal. There may be, and have been, fanatics in false religion; in the bloody religion of the heathen. There are fanatics in superstition. But there can be no fanatics, however warm their zeal, in true religion, even although you sell your goods, and bestow your money on the poor, and go and follow your Master. There may be, and every hour shows around me, fanatics in the cause of false liberty —that infamous liberty which justifies human bondage; that liberty whose cornerstone is slavery. But there can be no fanaticism, however high the enthusiasm, in the cause of rational, universal liberty—the liberty of the Declaration of Independence. This is the same censure which the Egyptian tyrant cast upon those old abolitionists, Moses and Aaron, when they “agitated” for freedom, and, in obedience to the command of God, bade him let the people go. But we are told by these pretended advocates of liberty in both branches of Congress, that those who preach freedom here and elsewhere are the slave's worst enemies; that it makes the slaveholder increase their burdens and tighten their chaims; that more cruel laws are enacted since this agitation began in 1835. Sir, I am not satisfied that this is the fact. I will send to the clerk, and ask him to read a law of Virginia enacted more than fifty years before this agitation began. It is to be found in the sixth volume of “Hening's Statutes at Large of Virginia,’’ published in 1819, “pursuant to an act of the General Assembly of Virginia, passed on the fifth day of February, 1808.”

[ocr errors]

“Sec. xxiv. And that when any slave shall be notoriously guilty of going abroad in the night, or running away and laying out, and cannot be reclaimed from such disorderly courses by common methods of punishment, it shall be lawful for the county court, upon complaint and proof thereof to them made by the owner of such slave, to order and direct such punishment by dismembering, or any other way, not touching life, as the court shall think fit. And if such slave shall die by means of such dismembering, no forfeiture or punishment shall be thereby incurred.”

I have had that law read to see if any gentleman can turn me to any more cruel laws passed since the “agitation.” I did not read it myself, though found on the pages of Old Virginia's law books, lest it should make the modest gentleman from Virginia [Mr. Millson], and the gentleman from North Carolina [Mr. Stanly], and his gray-headed negro, blush |

Mr. Bayly of Virginia—That law is repealed, or not now in force.

Mr. Stevens—Then I am glad that the agitation has produced some amelioration of your laws, although I still find it on your statute book.

But suppose it were true that the masters had become more severe; has it not been so with tyrants in every age? The nearer the oppressed is to freedom, and the more hopeful his struggles, the tighter the master rivets his chains. Moses and Aaron urged the emancipation of the enslaved Jews. Their master hardened his heart. Those fanatical abolitionists, guided by Heaven, agitated anew. Pharaoh increased the burden of the slaves. He required the same quantity of brick from them without straw, as when the straw had been found them. They were seen dispersed and wandering to gather stubble to make out their task. They failed, and were beaten with stripes. Moses was their worst enemy, according to these philanthropic gentlemen. Did the Lord think so, and command him to desist, lest he should injure them 7 No; he directed him to agitate again, and demand the abolition of slavery from the king himself. That great slaveholder still hardened his heart, and refused. The Lord visited him with successive plagues—lice, frogs, locusts, thick darkness—until, as the agitation grew higher, and the chains were tighter drawn, he smote the firstborn of every house in Egypt; nor did the slaveholder relax the grasp on his victims, until there was wailing throughout the whole land, over one dead in every family, from the king that sat on the throne to the captive in the dungeon. So I fear it will be in this land of wicked slavery. You have already among you what is equivalent to the lice and the locusts, that wither up every green thing where the foot of slavery treads. Beware of the final plague. And you, in the midst of slavery, who are willing to do justice to the people, take care that your works testify to the purity of your intentions, even at some cost. Take care that your

« PreviousContinue »