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The Higher Law

  Essays and Reviews

The Higher Law
by Orestes A. Brownson
Conscience and the Constitution,
with Remarks on the recent Speech of the Hon. Daniel Webster
in the Senate of the United States on the Subject of Slavery
by Moses Stuart
Boston: Crocker & Brewster. l850 8vo. pp. 119.

PROFESSOR STUART appears to have written this pamphlet from patriotic motives, with an earnest desire to allay the uncalled for popular agitation on the subject of negro slavery, and to contribute his share towards the maintenance of domestic peace, and the preservation of the Union. His chief purpose appears to have been to remove the scruples of some of his friends, by showing that a man may with a good conscience support the Federal Constitution although it recognizes slavery, and requires the slave escaping into a non-slaveholding State to be given up on the demand of his owner; and though he is no great proficient in moral theology, he has shown this to the satisfaction of all but mere factionists and cavillers.

We do not think that the learned Professor has made out his case as conclusively as he might have done. He is a man of respectable ability and attainments, but not remarkable for the strength or acuteness of his logical powers. He makes now and then a slip, of which an uncandid critic might take advantage. He is strongly opposed to slavery, but wishes at the same time to prove that the Christian may with a good conscience be a slave-holder. In order to prove this, lie asserts and proves that slavery is not malum in se, and therefore, if a sin at all, it is so only accidentally. But in order to justify his sincere aversion to slavery, be maintains that it is always and everywhere an evil, and excuses the old patriarchs for holding slaves only on the ground of invincible ignorance! In the darkness of those early ages men knew and could know no better! This we need not say is in contradiction to his assertion that slavery is not malum in se. But passing over slips of this sort, --somewhat common in all Professor Stuart's writings that have fallen under our notice,-- and looking only to the main design and argument of the pamphlet, we can very cheerfully commend it to our Protestant readers.

For ourselves, we agree with Professor Stuart that slavery is not malum in se. We hold that in some cases at least slavery is justifiable, and to the slave even a blessing. To the slave it is always good or evil according as he wills it to be one or the other, or according to the spirit with which be bears it. If he regards it as a penance, and submits to it in a true penitential spirit, it is a blessing to him, a great mercy, --as are on the same condition to every one of us all the sufferings and afflictions of this life. We should covet in this world, not happiness, but suffering, and the more grievous our afflictions, the more should we rejoice and give thanks. Christianity does not teach carnal Judaism, but condemns it, and commands its opposite as the condition of all real good, whether for this world or for that which is to come. To the master, slavery is not an evil, when he does not abuse it; when be has not himself participated in reducing those born free to servitude; when he treats his slaves with kindness and humanity, and faithfully watches over their moral and religious well-being. The relation of master and man, as to the authority of the former and the subjection of the latter, differs in nothing from the relation of father and son while the son is under age, and there is nothing which necessarily makes the relation less advantageous to either party in the one case than in the other.

That slavery as it exists in our Southern States is an evil, we do not doubt; but it is so accidentally, not necessarily. The evil is not in the relation of slavery itself, but in the fact that the great body of the masters do not bring up their slaves in the Church of God, and train or suffer them to be trained to observe the precepts of the Divine law. The mass of the slaves in this country grow up in heresy or heathenism, to the everlasting destruction of their souls. Here is the evil we see and deplore, --an evil, however, which none but Catholics do or can feel with much vividness. It is an evil which does not and cannot weigh much with Protestants, for the slaves in general are as little heathen and fully as orthodox as their masters. If the masters were good Catholics, as they ought to be, and are under the condemnation of God for not being, and brought up, as they are bound to do, their slaves in the belief and practice of the Catholic religion, there would be no evil in negro slavery to disturb us. The only evils we see in it are moral and spiritual, inseparable from heresy and heathenism. The physical and sentimental evils, or pretended evils, about which Abolitionists and philanthropists keep up such a clamor do not move us in the least. We place not the slightest value on what the men of this world call liberty, and we are taught by religion that poverty and suffering are far more enviable than riches and sensual enjoyment.

But conceding the evil of slavery as it exists in this country, it is far from certain that it is an evil that would be mitigated by emancipation, or that emancipation would not be even a greater evil. The negroes are here, and here they must remain. This is a "fixed fact." Taking the American people as they are, and as they are likely to be for some time to come, with their pride, prejudices, devotion to material interests, and hatred or disregard of Christian truth and morals, it is clear to us that the condition of the negro as a slave is even less evil than would be his condition as a freedman. The freed negroes amongst us are as a body, to say the least, no less immoral and heathen than the slaves themselves. They are the pests of our Northern cities, especially since they have come under the protection of our philanthropists. With a few honorable exceptions, they are low and degraded, steeped in vice and overflowing with crime. Even in our own city, almost at the moment we write, they are parading our streets in armed bands, for the avowed purpose of resisting the execution of the laws. Let loose some two or three millions like them, and there would be no living in the American community. Give them freedom and the right to vote in our elections, and the whole country would be at the mercy of the lowest and most worthless of our demagogues. With only Protestantism, indifferentism, infidelity, or savage fanaticism to restrain them, all their base and disorderly passions would be unchained, and our community would be a hell upon earth. No; before we talk of emancipation, before we can venture upon it with the least conceivable advantage to the slaves, we must train them, and train the white American people also, to habits of self-denial and moral virtue under the regimen of the Catholic Church, which alone has power to subdue the barbarous elements of our nature, and to enable men of widely different races, complexions, and characteristics to live together in the bonds of peace and brotherhood. We cannot, therefore, agree with Professor Stuart in his demand for emancipation, and we are decidedly opposed, for the present at least, not only to the fanatical proceedings, set on foot by our miserable Abolitionists and philanthropists to effect emancipation, but to emancipation itself. In the present state of things, emancipation would be a greater evil than slavery, and of two evils we are bound to choose the least. We have heard enough of liberty and the rights of man; it is high time to hear something of the duties of men and the rights of authority.

We write very deliberately, and are prepared for all the obloquy which may be showered upon us for what we write. The cry of liberty has gone forth; we, as well as others, have heard it; it has gone forth and been echoed and reechoed from every quarter, till the world has become maddened with it. The voice of law, of order, of wisdom, of justice, of truth, of experience, of common sense, is drowned in the tumultuous shouts of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! -shouts fit, in the sense they are uttered, only for assembled demons declaring war upon the Eternal God. But this should be our shame, not our boast. It ought not to be, and, if the world is to continue, must soon cease to be. Society cannot subsist where the rights of authority are forgotten, and loyalty and obedience are foresworn. There is no use in multiplying words on the subject. Man is a social being, and cannot live without society; society is impracticable and inconceivable without government; and government is impossible where its right to command is denied, or the obligation to obey it is not recognized. It is of the essence of government to restrain, and a government that imposes no restraint, that leaves every one free to do whatever seemeth right in his own eyes, is no government at all. The first want of every people is strong and efficient government, --a regularly constituted authority, that has the right and the power to enforce submission to its will. No matter what the form of your government, no matter in whose hands the power is lodged, --in the bands of the king, of the lords, or the commons, --it must, in so far as government at all, be sovereign, clothed, under God, with supreme authority, and be respected as such, or society is only Bedlam without its keeper.

This is the great truth the American people, in their insane clamor about the rights of man and the largest liberty, that is to say, full license to every man, lose sight of, or in reality deny; and it is on this truth, not on liberty, for which all are crying out, that it is necessary now to insist, both in season and out of season. There may be times and countries when and where the true servants of God must seek to restrict the action of government, and lessen the prerogatives of power; but assuredly here and now our duty is not to clamor for liberty or emancipation, but to reassert the rights of authority and the majesty of law. You will be decried, if you do so. No doubt of it. But what then? When was it popular to insist on the special truth demanded by one's own age? When was it that one could really serve his age or country without falling under its condemnation? When was it that the multitude were known to applaud him who rebuked them for their errors, exposed to them the dangers into which they were running by following their dominant tendencies, and presented them the truth needed for their salvation? What great or good man ever proposed to himself to serve his fellow-men by following their instincts, flattering their prejudices, and inflaming their passions? Who knows not that error and sin come by nature, and that virtue is achieved only by effort, by violence, by heroic struggle against even ourselves? Is not the hero always a soldier? Let then, the multitude clamor, let the age denounce, let the wicked rage, let earth and hell do their worst, what care you, heroic soldier of the King of kings? Go forth and meet the enemy. Charge, and charge home, where your Immortal Leader gives the word, and leave the responsibility to him. If you fall,, so much the greater glory for you, so much the more certain your victory, and your triumph.

But we are straying from the point we had in mind when we set out. Our purpose was, to offer some remarks on what is termed "the higher law" to which the opponents of the recent Fugitive Slave Law appeal to justify their refusal to execute it. The Hon. Mr. Seward, one of the Senators from New York, in the debate in the Senate during the last session of Congress on the Fugitive Slave Bill, refused to vote for the measure, although necessary to carry out an express constitutional provision, on the ground that to give up a fugitive slave is contrary to the law of God; and the Abolitionist and Free Soilers refuse to execute the law, and even in some instances resist its execution, on the same ground. When the honorable Senator appealed from the Constitution to the law of God, as a higher law, he was told by the advocates of the bill, that, having just taken his oath to support the Constitution, he had debarred himself from the right, while retaining his seat in the Senate, to appeal from it to any law requiring him to act in contravention of its provisions. The Abolitionists and Free Soilers immediately concluded from this that the advocates of the bill denied the reality of any law higher than the Constitution, and their papers and periodicals teem with articles and essays to prove the supremacy of the law of God. The question is one of no little gravity, and, to our Protestant friends, of no little perplexity. We may, therefore, be allowed to devote a few pages to its consideration.

We agree entirely with Mr. Seward and his Abolition and Free Soil friends, as to the fact that there is a higher law than the Constitution. The law of God is supreme, and overrides all human enactments, and every human enactment incompatible with it is null and void from the beginning, and cannot be obeyed with a good conscience, for "we must obey God rather than men." This is the great truth statesmen and lawyers are extremely prone to overlook, which the temporal authority not seldom practically denies, and on which the Church never fails to insist. This truth is so frequently denied, so frequently outraged, that we are glad to find it asserted by Mr. Seward and his friends, although they assert it in a case and for a purpose in which we do not and cannot sympathize with them.

But the concession of the fact of a higher law than the Constitution does not of itself justify the appeal to it against the Constitution, either by Mr. Seward or the opponents of the Fugitive Slave Law. Mr. Seward had no right, while holding his seat in the Senate under the Constitution, to appeal to this higher law against the Constitution, because that was to deny the very authority by which be held his seat. The Constitution, if repugnant to the law of God, is null and void, is without authority, and as Mr. Seward held his seat by virtue of its authority, he could have no authority for holding his seat, after having declared it to be null and void, because the Constitution is a mere compact, and the Federal Government has no existence independent of it, or powers not created by it. This is an in convenience he does not appear to have considered. The prin- ciple that would have justified his refusal to obey the Constitution would have deprived him of his seat as a Senator. Moreover, the question of the compatibility or incompatibility of the Constitution with the law of God was a question for him to have raised and settled before taking his senatorial oath. Could he conscientiously swear to support the Constitution? If he could, he could not afterwards refuse to carry out any of its imperative provisions, on the ground of its being contrary to the higher law, for he would in swearing to support the Constitution declare in the most solemn manner in his power, that in his belief at least it imposed upon him no duty contrary to his duty to God, since to swear to support a constitution repugnant to the Divine law is to take an unlawful oath, and to swear with the deliberate intention of not keeping one's oath is to take a false oath. After having taken his oath to support the Constitution, the Senator had, so far as he was concerned, settled the question, and it was no longer for him an open question. In calling God to witness his determination to support the Constitution, he had called God to witness his conviction of the compatibility of the Constitution with the law of God, and therefore left himself no plea for appealing from it to a higher law. If be discovered the incompatibility of the imperative provisions of the Constitution only after having taken his oath, he was bound from that moment to resign his seat. In any view of the case, therefore, we choose to take, Mr. Seward was not and could not be justified in appealing to a law above the Constitution against the Constitution while he retained his seat under it and remained bound by his oath to support it. It is then perfectly easy to condemn the appeal of the Senator, without, as Abolitionists and Free Soilers pretend, failing into the monstrous error of denying the supremacy of the Divine law, and maintaining that there is no law above the Constitution.

What we have said is conclusive against the honorable Senator from New York, but it does not precisely apply to the case of those who resist or refuse to obey the Fugitive Slave Law now that it has been passed. These persons take the ground that the law of God is higher than any human law and therefore we can in no case be bound to obey a human law that is in contravention of it. Such a law is a violence rather than a law, and we are commanded by God himself to resist it at least passively. All this is undeniable in the case of every human enactment that really does command us to act contrary to the law of God. To this we hold, as firmly as man can bold to any thing and to this every Christian is bound to bold even unto death. This is the grand principle held by the old martyrs, and therefore they chose martyrdom rather than obedience to the state commanding them to act contrary to the Divine law. But who is to decide whether a special civil enactment be or be not repugnant to the law of God? Here is a grave and a perplexing question for those who have no divinely authorized interpreter of the Divine law. The Abolitionists and Free Soilers, adopting the Protestant principle of private judgment, claim the right to decide each for himself. But this places the individual above the state, private judgment above the law, and is wholly incompatible with the simplest conception of civil government. No civil government can exist, none is conceivable even, where every individual is free to disobey its orders whenever they do not happen to square with his private convictions of what is the law of God. The principle of private judgment, adopted by Protestants in religious matters, it is well known, has destroyed for them the church as an authoritative body, and put an end to every thing like ecclesiastical authority; transferred to civil matters, it would, equally put an end to the state, and abolish all civil authority, and establish the reign of anarchy or license. Clearly, if government is to be retained, and to govern, the right to decide when a civil enactment does or does not conflict with the law of God cannot be lodged in the individual subject. Where then shall it be lodged? In the state? Then are you bound to absolute obedience to any and every law the state may enact; you make the state supreme, absolute, and deny your own principle of a higher law than the civil law. You have then no appeal from the state and no relief for conscience, which is absolute civil despotism. Here is a sad dilemma for our uncatholic countrymen, which admirably demonstrates the unsuitableness of Protestant principles for practical life. If they assert the principle of private judgment in order to save individual liberty, they lose government and fall into anarchy. If they assert the authority of the state in order to save government, they lose liberty and fall under absolute civil despotism, and it is an historical fact that the Protestant world perpetually alternates between civil despotism and unbridled license, and after three hundred years of experimenting finds itself as far as ever from solving the problem, how to reconcile liberty and authority. Strange that men do not see that the solution must be sought in God, not in man! Alas! reformers make a sad blunder when they reject the Church instituted by God himself for the express purpose of interpreting his law, --the only protector of the people, on the one hand, against despotism, and of government, on the other, against license!

But the people cannot avail themselves of their own blunder to withdraw themselves from their obligation to obey the laws. Government itself is a divine ordinance, is ordained of God. "Let everyone be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but from God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation." We do not say that all the acts of government are ordained of God; for if we did, we could not assert the reality of a law higher than that of the state, and should be forced to regard every civil enactment as a precept of the Divine law. In ordinary government, God does not ordain obedience to all and every of its acts, but to those only of its acts which come within the limits of his own law. He does not make civil government the supreme and infallible organ of his will on earth, and therefore it may err, and contravene his will; and when and where it does, its acts are null and void. But government itself, as civil authority, is a divine ordinance, and within the law of God, clothed with the light to command and to enforce obedience. No appeal, therefore, from any act of Government, which in principle denies the divine right of government, or which is incompatible with the assertion and maintenance of civil authority, can be entertained. Since government as civil authority is an ordinance of God, and as such the divine law, any course of action, or the assertion of any principle of action, incompatible with its existence as government, is necessarily forbidden by, the law of God. The law of God is always the equal of the law of God, and can never be in conflict with itself. Consequently no appeal against government as civil authority to the law of God is admissible, because the law of God is as supreme in any one of its enactments as in another.

Now it is clear that Mr. Seward and his friends, the Abolitionists and Free Soilers, have nothing to which they can appeal from the action of government but their private interpretation of the law of God, that is to say, their own private judgment or opinion as individuals; for it is notorious that they are good Protestants, holding the pretended right of private judgment, and rejecting all authoritative interpretation of the Divine law. To appeal from the government to private judgment is to place private judgment above public authority, the individual above the state, which, as we have seen, is incompatible with the very existence of government, and therefore, since government is a divine ordinance, absolutely forbidden by the law of God, --that very higher law invoked to justify resistance to civil enactments. There is an important consideration, which condemns, on the authority of God himself, the pretended right of private judgment, the grossest absurdity that ever entered the heads of men outside of Bedlam, and proves that, in attempting to set aside on its authority a civil enactment, we come into conflict not with the human law only, but also with the law of God itself. No man can ever be justifiable in resisting the civil law under the pretence that it is repugnant to the Divine law, when he has only his private judgment, or, what is the same thing, his private interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. to tell him what the Divine law is on the point in question, because the principle on which he would act in doing so would be repugnant to the very existence of government, and therefore in contravention of the ordinance, therefore of the law, of God.

Man's prime necessity is society, and the prime necessity of society is government. The question, whether government shall or shall not be sustained, is at bottom only the question, whether the human race shall continue to subsist or not. Man is essentially a social being, and cannot live without society, and society is inconceivable without government. Extinguish government, and you extinguish society; extinguish society, and you extinguish man. Inasmuch as God has created and ordained the existence of the human race, be has founded and ordained government, and made it absolutely obligatory on us to sustain it, to refrain in principle and action from whatever would tend to destroy it, or to render its existence insecure. They who set aside or resist the Fugitive Slave Law on the ground of its supposed repugnance to the law of God are, then, no more justifiable than we have seen was the honorable Senator from New York. In no case can any man ever be justified in setting aside or resisting a civil enactment, save on an authority higher than his own and that of the government. This higher authority is not recognized by the Abolitionists and Free Soilers; they neither have nor claim to have any such authority to allege; consequently, they are bound to absolute submission to the civil authority, not only in the case of the Fugitive Slave Law, but in every case, however repugnant such submission may be to their private convictions and feelings, or what they call their conscience, for conscience itself is respectable only when it is authorized by the law of God, or is in conformity with it.

That this is civil despotism, that is, the assertion of the absolute supremacy of the state, we do not deny; but that is not our fault. If men, by rejecting the divinely authorized interpreter of the law of God, voluntarily place themselves in such a condition that they have no alternative but either civil despotism or resistance to the ordinance of God, the fault is their own. They must expect to reap what they sow. They were warned betimes, but they would heed no warning; they would have their own way; and if they now find that their own way leads to death, they have only themselves to blame. It is not we who advocate despotism, but they who render it inevitable for themselves, if they wish to escape the still greater evil of absolute license. As Catholics we wash our hands of the consequences which they cannot escape, and which any man with half an eye might have seen would necessarily follow the assertion of the absurd and ridiculous, not to say blasphemous, principle of private judgment. We have never been guilty of the extreme folly of proclaiming that principle, and of superinducing the necessity of asserting civil despotism as the only possible relief from anarchy. We are able to assert liberty without undermining authority, and authority without injury to liberty; for we have been contented to let God himself be our teacher and our legislator, instead of weak, erring, vain, and capricious men, facetiously ycleped reformers. As Catholics, we were not among those who undertook to improve on Infinite Wisdom, and to reform the institutions of the Almighty. We are taught by a divinely authorized Teacher, that government is the ordinance of God, and that we are to respect and obey it as such in all things not repugnant to the law of God; and we have an authority higher than its, higher than our own, to tell us, without error, or the possibility of error, --because by Divine assistance and protection rendered infallible, --when the acts of government conflict with the law of God, and it becomes our duty to resist the former in obedience to the latter. Civil authority is respected and obeyed when respected and obeyed in all things it has from God the right to do or command; and liberty is preserved inviolate when nothing can be exacted from us in contravention of the Divine law, and we are free to disobey the prince when he commands us to violate the law of God. We then do and can experience none of the perplexity which is experienced by our uncatholic countrymen. We have an infallible Church to tell us when there is a conflict between the human law and the Divine, to save us from the necessity, in order to get rid of despotism, of asserting individualism, which is the denial of all government, and, in order to get rid of individualism, of asserting civil despotism, that is, the supremacy of the state, the grave of all freedom. We have never to appeal to the principle of despotism nor to the principle of anarchy. We have always a public authority, which, as it is inerrable, can never be oppressive, to guide and direct us, and if we resist the civil law, it is only in obedience to a higher law, clearly and distinctly declared by a public authority higher than the individual, and higher than the state. Our readers, therefore, will not accuse us of advocating civil despotism, which we abhor, because we show that they who reject God's Church, and assert private judgment have no alternative but despotism or license. They are, as Protestants, under the necessity of being slaves and despots, not we who are Catholics. We enjoy, and we alone enjoy, the glorious prerogative of being at once freemen and loyal subjects.

There is no principle on which the Abolitionists and Free Soilers can justify their resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law. They cannot appeal to the law of God, for, having no authority competent to declare it, the law of God is for them as if it were not. It is for them a mere unmeaning word, or meaning only their private or individual judgment, which is no law at all, and if it were would at best be only a human, and the lowest conceivable human law. The highest human law is unquestionably the law of the state, as the state is the highest human authority conceivable. No appeal can then lie from the state to another human authority, least of all to the individual; for appeals do not go downwards, do not lie from the higher to the lower, as ultra democracy would seem to imply. The highest conceivable human authority has passed the law in question, and in so doing has declared it compatible with the law of God; and as its opponents have only a human authority at best to reverse the judgment of the state, nothing remains for them but to yield it full and loyal obedience. We have dwelt at length on this point, because it is one of great importance in itself, and because we are anxious to clear away the mist with which it has been surrounded, and to prevent any denial on the one hand, or misapplication on the other, of the great principle of the supremacy of the Divine law. The misapplication of a great principle is always itself a great and dangerous error, and often, perhaps always, leads to the denial of the principle. Mr. Seward and his friends asserted a great and glorious principle, but misapplied it. Their opponents, the friends of the Constitution and the Union, seeing clearly the error of the application, have, in some instances at least, denied the principle itself, and their papers North and South are filled with sneers at the higher law doctrine. The one error induces the other, and we hardly know which, under existing circumstances, is the most to be deprecated. Each error favors a dangerous popular tendency of the times. We have spoken of the tendency, under the name of liberty, to anarchy and license; but there is another tendency, under the pretext of authority, to civil despotism, or what has been very properly denominated Statolatry, or the worship of the state, that is, elevating the state above the Church, and putting it in the place of God. Both tendencies have the same origin, that is, in the Protestant rejection of the spiritual authority of the Church on the one hand, and the assertion of private judgment on the other; and in fact, both are but the opposite phases or poles of one and the same principle. The two tendencies proceed pari passu, and while the one undermines all authority, the other grasps at all powers and usurps all rights, and modern society in consequence is cursed at once with the opposite evils of anarchy and of civil despotism. The cry for liberty abolishes all loyalty, and destroys the principle and the spirit of obedience, while the usurpations of the state leave to conscience no freedom, to religion no independence. The state tramples on the spiritual prerogatives of the Church, assumes to itself the functions of schoolmaster and director of consciences, and the multitude clap their hands, and call it liberty and progress! We see this in the popular demand for state education, and in the joy that the men of the world manifest at the nefarious conduct of the Sardinian government in breaking the faith of treaties and violating the rights of the Church. When it concerns the Church, the supremacy of the state is proclaimed, and when it concerns government or law, then it is individualism that is shouted. Such is our age, our boasted nineteenth century.

Now there is a right and a wrong way of defending the truth, And it is always easier to defend the truth on sound than on unsound principles. If men were less blind and headstrong, they would see that the higher law can be asserted without any attack upon legitimate civil authority, and legitimate civil authority and the majesty of the law can be vindicated without asserting the absolute supremacy of the civil power, and falling into statolator, --as absurd a species of idolatry as the worship of sticks and stones. The assertion of the higher law, as Abolitionists and Free Soilers make it, without any competent authority to define and declare that law, leads to anarchy and unbridled license, and therefore we are obliged, as, we value society, law, order, morality, to oppose them. On the other hand, the denial of the higher law as the condition of opposing them asserts the supremacy in all thing; of the state, and subjects us in all things unreservedly to the civil power, which is statolatory, and absolute civil despotism. No wise and honest statesman can do either. But --here is the difficulty-- the Protestant statesman is obliged to do one or the other, or both, at one moment one, at the next moment the other. This is what we have wished to make plain to the dullest capacity. Protestantism is clearly not adapted to practical life, and its principles are as inapplicable in politics as in religion. There is no practical assertion of true liberty or legitimate authority on Protestant principles, and neither is or can be asserted but as men resort, avowedly or otherwise, to Catholic principles. Hence the reason why we have been unable to discuss the question presented, and give a rational solution of the difficulty, without recurring to our Church. In recurring to her, we have, no doubt, offended the friends of the Constitution and the Union, the party with whom are our sympathies, as much as we have their enemies; but this is no fault of ours, for we cannot go contrary to what God has ordained. He has not seen proper so to constitute society and endow government that they can get on without his Church. She is an integral, an essential element in the constitution of society, and it is madness and folly to think of managing it and securing its well-being without her. She is the solution of all difficulties, and without her none are solvable.

For us Catholics, the Fugitive Slave Law presents no sort of difficulty. We are taught, as we have said, to respect and obey the government as the ordinance of God, in all things not declared by our Church to be repugnant to the Divine law. The law is evidently constitutional, and is necessary to carry out an express and imperative provision of the Constitution, which ordains (Art. IV. Sect. 2), that "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." This is imperative, and with regard to its meaning there is no disagreement. By this the slaveholders have the right to claim their fugitive slaves in the non-slaveholding States, and the nonslaveholding States are bound to deliver them up, when claimed. For the purpose of carrying out this constitutional provision, Congress passed a law, in 1793, which has proved ineffectual, and it has passed the recent law, more stringent in its provisions, and likely to prove efficient, for the same purpose. We can see nothing in the law contrary to the Constitution, and, as high legal authority has pronounced it constitutional, we must presume it to be so. Nobody really regards it as unconstitutional, and the only special objection to it is, --what is no objection at all, that it is likely to answer its purpose. Now as the law is necessary to secure the fulfilment of the obligations imposed by the Constitution, and as our Church has never decided that to restore a fugitive slave to its owner as per se contrary to be law of God, we are bound to obey the law, and could not, --without resisting the ordinance of God and purchasing to ourselves damnation, refuse to obey it. This settles the question for us.

As to Protestants who allege that the law is contrary to the law of God, and therefore that they cannot with a good conscience obey it, we have very little in addition to say. There are no principles in common between them and us, on which the question can be decided. We have shown them that they are bound to obey the civil law till they can bring a higher authority than the state, and a higher than their own private judgment, to set it aside as repugnant to the law of God. This higher authority they have not, and therefore for them there is no higher law. Will they allege the Sacred Scriptures? That will avail them nothing till they show that they have legal possession of the Scriptures, and that they are constituted by Almighty God a court with authority to interpret them and declare their sense. As this is what they can never do, we cannot argue the Scriptural question with them. We will only add, that there is no passage in either the Old Testament or the New that declares it repugnant to the law of God, or law of eternal justice, to deliver up the fugitive slave to his master; and St. Paul sent back, after converting him, the fugitive slave Onesimus to his master Philemon. This is enough; for St. Paul appears to have done more than the recent law of Congress demands; he seems to have sent back the fugitive without being requested to do so by his owner; but the law of Congress only requires the fugitive to be delivered up when claimed by his master. It will not do for those who appeal to the Sacred Scriptures to maintain either that St. Paul was ignorant of the law of God, or that be acted contrary to it. This fact alone concludes the Scriptural question against them.

But we have detained our readers long enough. We have said more than was necessary to satisfy the intelligent and the candid, and reasoning is thrown away upon factionists and fanatics, Abolitionists and philanthropists. There is no question that the country is seriously in danger. What, with the sectionists at the North and the sectionists at the South, with the great dearth of true patriots, and still greater dearth of statesmen, in all sections of the Union, it will go hard but the Union itself receive some severe shocks. Yet we trust in God it will be preserved, although the American people are far from meriting so great a boon. After the humiliation of ourselves, and prayer to God, we see nothing to be done to save the country, but for all the friends of the Union, whether heretofore called Whigs or Democrats, to rally around the Union, and form a grand national party, in opposition to the sectionists, factionists, and fanatics, of all complexions, sorts, and sizes. It is no time now to indulge old party animosities, or to contend for old party organizations. The country is above party, and all who love their country, and wish to save the noble institutions left us by our fathers, should fall into the ranks of one and the same party, and work side by side, and shoulder to shoulder, for the maintenance of the Union and the supremacy of law. We see strong indications that such a party is rapidly forming throughout the country, and we say, let it be formed, --the sooner the better. Let the party take high conservative ground, against all sorts of radicalism and ultraism, and inscribe on its banner, THE PRESERVATION OF THE UNION, AND THE SUPREMACY OF LAW, and it will command the support, we doubt not, of a large majority of the American people, and deserve and receive, we devoutly hope, the protection of Almighty God, who, we must believe, has after all great designs in this country. Above all, let our Catholic fellow-citizens in this crisis be faithful to their duty, even though they find Mr. Fillmore's administration and our Protestant countrymen madly and foolishly hostile to them; for on the Catholic population, under God, depend the future destinies of these United States. The principles of our holy religion, the prayers of our Church, and the fidelity to their trust; of the Catholic portion of the people, are the only sure reliance left us.

Essays and Reviews (1880) p. 349
Brownson's Quarterly Review (January, 1851)
Works, Vol. XVII, p. 1