too much confidence in the northern majority, who were soon to control that body, to believe that directly or indirectly they would impair or destroy a right so solemnly guaranteed. To have anticipated such an attack upon their property and peace, would have been to suppose that they had been made the easy victims of a perfidy, which, under all the circumstances, under all the traditions of common sufferings and exertions, was characterized by a wealth of deception that would have excited the envy even of a Carthagenian. Especially would that be the case if the deceit was to be covered up by a constant course of perjury on the part of the officials of the government, who were to be sworn as a qualification for office to support the constitution which contained that pledge. How justly our fathers relied upon that instrument to protect their rights, subsequent history has shown. Nothing could be more clearly established than the right on one side to reclaim fugitive slaves, and the obligation on the other to return them—an obligation which surely ought to have rested lightly enough on those who brought them here and sold them. Nor is it easy to see how the remorse for having sold them could be relieved by inveigling them away from those who had bought them. But so it was, that during the existence of slavery there was an ever-living contest between the slave and the free States on this very subject—the former seeking to enforce, and the latter to evade, the constitutional obligation for the return of fugitive slaves. Long before the secession of the slave States, it had become almost impossible, without the assistance of armed forces, to reclaim a fugitive slave openly in the free States. Lunt, p. 320, says: "At length fourteen of the sixteen free States had provided statutes which rendered any attempt to execute the fugitive slave act so difficult as to be practically impossible, and placed each of those States in an attitude of virtual resistance to the laws of the United States." When Mr. Toombs, in the Senate of the United States, during the session in which he withdrew from that body, referred to these laws and taxed the free States with their violation of constitutional obligation, in evidence of which he produced these statutes, it was pitiful to hear the excuses by which the representatives of these States sought to squirm out of the difficulty—a difficulty for which the executives of Ohio and Iowa would scarcely have cared to apologize, if it be true, as doubtless it is, as Lunt states, that "at a somewhat later period those officers refused to surrender to justice persons charged with participation in the John Brown raid." (See note, p. 320.) At the era of secession the
Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 01.djvu/13
This page has been validated.
Origin of the Late War.