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Speech of Hon. Daniel Webster

Brownson's Quarterly Review, July, 1850
 Literary Notices and Criticisms.
1.- Speech of Hon. Daniel Webster on Mr. Clmfs Resolutions in the Senate of the United Slates, March 7, 1850. Wash­ington : Gideon & Co.    1850.    8vo.    pp. 64.
- Slavery and the Union.    A Lecture delivered in the Taber­
nacle, Neiu  York.    By the Rev. J. W. Cummings, D. D.    New
York Freeman's Journal, May 25, 1850.
- Review of Mr. Webster^s Speech on Slavery.    By Wendell
Phillips.    Boston : American A. S. Society.    1850.
- Letter of Hon. Horace Mann, M.C, to his  Constituents.
Boston Atlas, May 6, 1850.
Mr. Wendell Phillips's Review of Mr. Webster's Speech we have not done ourselves the honor to read. Mr. Phillips is himself a man of very respectable talents and attainments, - a man abun­dantly able to distinguish himself without resorting to eccentricity of movement, or wild and savage fanaticism of conduct., - and is therefore utterly inexcusable for taking the course he does. We have introduced his pamphlet, published by the American Anti-slavery Society, solely as an occasion to assure that Society and its friends, that we make it a point of conscience never to read any of its publications, and to request it and them to spare themselves the trouble of sending us any Abolition publication whatever. We know already all we wish to know of the Abolitionists, and we should be sorry to be compelled to think more unfavorably of them than we now do. They are a class of persons who do not improve upon acquaintance, and we learned enough of them in former years to be certain that the less we know of them, the higher shall we esteem them.
Of the Hon. Horace Mann's Letter to his Constituents we have little to say. Mr. Mann is a member of Congress from the Eighth Congressional District of this Commonwealth ; he bears at home the character of a philanthropist, and is said to have won some withered laurels in a controversy with the Boston schoolmas­ters a few years since, when he was Secretary of our Board of Education. He has some skill in the construction of sentences, is able to give passable lessons in orthography, and perhaps in the rudiments of English Grammar; but we have never understood that he was remarkable as a logician, a lawyer, or a statesman. He had some reputation as a Lyceum-lecturer, but we do not find that he has added to it by his speeches in Congress. He is a man we would not treat unkindly, nay, whom we would treat with great tenderness, and therefore we shall offer no comments on his Letter to his Constituents.
Dr. Cummings's Lecture is a bold, frank, manly production, marked by practical good sense, ready wit, good-natured ridicule, Christian feeling, and true wisdom and prudence. It is upon the whole, from the point of view of religion and morals, the best word we have heard spoken on the subject of slavery and the Union. The lecturer had no novelties to advance, no speculations of his own to bring out; he had nothing to do but to apply the great prin­ciples of his holy religion to a pressing moral, social, and political question, and he has done it with a success that leaves little to be desired. He is no advocate of slavery ; he is no apologist of the slaveholder; he holds that slavery is an evil, and that we should labor to get rid of it; but in such way only as will not lead to a greater evil. Yet he does not concede that it is malum in se, or contend that a man by owning slaves necessarily forfeits his Chris­tian character. The Church does not sanction slavery, nor does she command its abolition as an act of justice. She commands the slave to be obedient for God's sake, and the master to treat his slave with kindness and humanity, and then remits the whole matter to the operation of Christian charity on the hearts of both the slave and his master. Great as the evil of slavery may be, the evil of disunion, or the disruption of the Union of the States, would be incalculably greater, and consequently, however much we may be opposed to slavery, and however desirous we may be to remove it, we are forbidden to attempt its abolition by any measures in­compatible with our constitutional duties, or with the peace and prosperity of the Union.
This is the true ground, and the only ground which we can take either as Christians or as American citizens. It is the ground we ourselves took in an essay on the subject in The Boston Quarterly Review for April, 1838, and which we have uniformly maintained ever since. Even in the days of our wildest radicalism, we never suffered ourselves to maintain that it is lawful to do evil that good may come ; that it is ever permitted to break up a social or politi­cal order for the sake of getting rid of an evil which is found to exist under it. Our doctrine was even then, as it is now, that evils existing under a social or political order are to be removed by and in consonance with that order, never by its destruction, and, when not so removable, are to be patiently submitted to as the less evil of the two. We doubtless uttered in those days a great many false, a great many foolish, a great many dangerous opinions, but we were never of the no-government sect; we were never, strictly speaking, a revolutionist; we never held that it can be lawful to resist legitimate authority, or that we are permitted, for the sake of social or political amelioration, to break up an established order of things. We never dreamed of the possibility of effecting reforms in contravention of law, or held the false notion that liberty and order are antagonistic. We were never so blinded as not to see that order is the only possible condition of freedom, or that order is impossible without government. No doubt we emitted from time to time opinions that imply the contrary, but never any which, when putting them forth, we saw or believed to imply the contrary.
We have always conceded slavery to be an evil, and an evil of which it is highly desirable to get rid; but we have always main­tained that it is one of those social evils that it is lawful to remove only in accordance with fidelity to the Constitution and the Federal Union, and that in so far as it cannot be so removed we are not in any respect to meddle with it. The law which binds us to support the Union, to preserve our political order inviolate, is paramount to any law that can bind us to labor for the emancipation of the slave. This is the view we have always taken, and when we had far more influence in political matters than we now have, or are likely ever to have again, we so fully developed it that we have no occasion to add any thing in support of it now. If there are any who wish to see it developed and supported in a triumphant manner, we refer them to the Lecture of Dr. Cummings.
Mr. Webster, in his masterly Speech on Mr. Clay's Resolutions, takes up the subject as a senator, and considers it from the point of view of his constitutional duty. His speech itself, in our judg­ment, does the distinguished senator more credit as a man and as a statesman than any other he has ever made. It was worthy of his station and of the occasion, and, in the circumstances in which it was delivered, rises above mere intellectual greatness, and approaches the morally sublime. The orator rises to the full dignity of the American senator, above all sectional prejudices, and all party interests and personal ambition, to those high moral and constitu­tional principles which so many lose sight of, but which should ever animate and guide the American statesman. We have never been associated with the political party with which Mr. Webster usually acts, but we have read his speech with joy to find that pub­lic virtue has yet one champion in our country, and that the princi­ples on which the stability of our republic rests have still one elo­quent voice that fears not to proclaim them.
Mr. Webster is far more strongly opposed to domestic slavery than we are, and he has never, during his whole public life, failed to do all in his power to prevent its further extension. We know no man in the country more strongly opposed to slavery, or who would go farther, within the limits of the Constitution, to repress and even abolish it. But he is no fanatic, no revolutionist, no mad philanthropist, who, in pursuit of a particular good, is ready to trample down by the way a thousandfold more good than he can possibly gain in gaining the particular end he seeks.    He is a statesman, a moralist, and holds that he has no right to trample on the Constitution he has sworn to support, or to prove faithless to the solemn engagements formed under it. As a senator, he holds it his paramount duty to be loyal to the Union, and faithful to the Constitution. He is not the man to hold office under a constitution, to swear to support it, and, like the radical Senator from New York, to deny its binding force, and claim the right to violate it as often as it may fail to correspond to his private opinion, private caprice, or personal ambition. He is far enough behind the age, far enough behind the Hon. William H. Seward, to hold that law is sa­cred, and the Constitution inviolable. This may be unfavorable to his popularity with mere radical politicians, and may bring down upon him the censures of The New York Tribune, the organ of the American Socialists, and of The Boston Alias, the organ of the men, as John Randolph termed them, of " seven principles,- five loaves and two fishes "; but we dare maintain that it is honorable to him as a statesman, and we doubt not will secure him the warm approbation of the majority of the American people, certainly of all whose approbation it would not be discreditable to have.
Every body has read Mr. Webster's speech, and we have no need of attempting its analysis. The objections we have heard to it are two, that Mr. Webster has contradicted in it the views he has heretofore maintained on the subject of slavery, and yielded too much to the slave interest. In regard to the first, it is well known that Mr. Webster early declared himself opposed to all extension of slave territory. His ground has always been that, where slavery already exists by local laws, there it must be left, and the federal government and non-slaveholding States have no right to interfere with it, and are bound to fulfil in regard to it all the stipulations of the Constitution; but the accession of new slave territory, or the extension of slavery into new territories, where it has no legal exist­ence, is to be steadily resisted as far as it can be by constitutional and legal means. This is what we have always understood to be his doctrine on the subject. Accordingly, we find him resisting with all his might the annexation of Texas, and the acquisition of New Mexico and California. The measures which annexed Texas and the territory acquired from Mexico, he opposed to the last mo­ment that opposition could be legal or constitutional,- but, as is well known, without success. The measures were consummated. They were no longer open questions, and consequently the question for the statesman was itself changed. Texas being annexed, Califor­nia and New Mexico acquired, what is now the duty of the Amer­ican senator ? Evidently to carry out in good faith the obligations contracted with the new territory, by the action of the government, whether favorable or unfavorable to slavery. This is all Mr. Web­ster has done, or proposed to do, and this implies no change of his views of slavery, and no action inconsistent with the principles by which he had always professed to regulate his public conduct on the subject.
The men who accuse him of having changed his views or con­duct cannot be sincere in their accusation. They are disappointed and vexed that he has not taken sides with them, and given the sanction of his name and authority to their mad schemes of agita­tion, or to the illegal and destructive policy which they wish to pursue, and which they are aware is essential to their own distinc­tion, or attainment to power or place. In calm, peaceful times, when none but legal and orderly measures are tolerated, there is, as they well know, no chance for them to emerge from their native in­significancy, no opportunity for them to exert the slightest influence in public affairs. It is only in times of violent agitation, of revo­lution, of confusion, when reason has lost her empire, and passion is enthroned in her place, that little men can usurp the places of great men, and miserable demagogues the places of wise and ac­complished statesmen. Settle the question on constitutional grounds, and remove all pretext for agitation, and what would become of your Greeleys, your Schoulers, your Garrisons, your Burleighs, your Fosters, and your Abby Folsoms? Who would ever hear of them again? Where would be the hopes of your Toombses, your Yu-lees, your Chases, your Sewards, your Manns, and your Palfreys ? These men can gain notoriety only by eccentricity, and rise to im­portance only when the community is distracted by lawless and un­principled agitation. The moment they fall into the ranks of the friends of order, and of straightforward legal and constitutional action, they are entirely overlooked. What they most fear is the settlement of the question. They vent their spite on Mr. Webster, because he throws the whole weight of his name, his character, his authority, and his eminent abilities into the scale of legal and con­stitutional policy, and because in doing so the storm is likely to be allayed, and the vexed questions quietly and peaceably disposed of. They also charge him with inconsistency, because they think it something in their favor to dare attack a great man, and something pretty sure to call forth the approbation of their followers, as the poodles all are always filled with admiration when the hound at­tacks the lion, although sure not to overcome him. Only think, a lion attacked ! What a brave dog, not to fear to attack a lion, and contend with him!
As to the second objection, it is undoubtedly well founded, if Abo­litionist fanatics are to be listened to; but if we hold to the inviolabil­ity of the Constitution, and to the faith of contracts formed under it, it is ridiculous. Mr. Webster yields to slavery just what he is bound to yield to it by the Constitution and the conditions on which Texas was admitted into the Union.    Less than this he could not do, without violating his oath to the Constitution, and his obligations as a senator, and more he does not propose to do. The great merit of Mr. Webster's speech is in showing in a clear, calm, and dignified manner, that all the excitement in Congress and out of Congress on the slavery question is "much ado about nothing." Really there is no question to settle. Texas is admitted into the Union as a slave State with the Missouri Compromise. This is settled, and there is no undoing it now. The contract admitting Texas author­izes the formation with her consent of four additional States out of her territory, and south of a given parallel of latitude, with or with­out slavery, according to the will of the new States themselves. No statesman is at liberty to violate that contract, and we are bound, whatever our views of slavery, to carry out its stipulations in good faith. Here, then, the question is also settled, and nothing remains to be done. As to California and New Mexico, slavery can never go there, for the reason that it does not come to Mas­sachusetts. The climate, soil, and productions are such as to pre­vent it from being profitable. A law paramount to all laws of man excludes it, as it has excluded it from all New England, and there is no need of introducing provisos to keep it out. There is then really no question to be settled ; for so long as the territory of the Union remains as it is, the whole question is already settled, and slavery has its bounds fixed, beyond which it cannot pass, any more than if hemmed in by a wall of adamant. How, then, can you say that Mr. Webster has yielded too much to slavery ?
Fault is found with Mr. Webster for his support of an effective law for the recovery of fugitive slaves. But the non-slaveholding States are clearly bound by the Constitution to give up such fugi­tives, and Congress has the unquestionable right to pass a law for their recovery. Nobody dare deny either of these positions. But it is said the law does not provide for a jury trial. In the first place, we do not place as much confidence in jury trials as some of our countrymen do, and as a general principle we are opposed to extending it beyond its present limits. In the second place, a jury in the case would be an unheard of anomaly in our system of juris­prudence. In no instance is it demanded or provided in the case of fugitives from justice. All appear satisfied that a man accused of crime should be surrendered for trial to the authorities of the Stale in which the crime is alleged to have been committed, and nobody has as yet demanded that he should not be surrendered but upon the verdict of a jury. We can see no reason why a jury should not be demanded in the case of fugitives from justice, as well as in the case of fugitive slaves, especially since the former are far more numerous than the latter. A white man's liberty is worth as much in our eyes as a black man's, and we are by no means disposed to make the negroes a privileged class.    But a jury trial in the case of fugitives from justice would be an absurdity, because the ques­tion to be decided before giving them up is, not whether they are guilty or not, for that question can be decided only where the offence is said to have been committed, but simply whether they shall be given up to be tried. The fugitive from justice is not given up as guilty, but simply as accused by a legal authority, and no jury is needed to try the fact whether he is so accused or not. So the person claimed as a fugitive slave is not surrendered as a slave, and the question to be decided is not whether he is really a slave or not, but simply whether he is claimed as such by a legal authority or not. The legality of the claim is another question, and must be settled in the courts of the State in which it is alleged the person claimed is held to service. A jury in his case would be as great an absurdity as in the case of the fugitive from justice. Undoubtedly no one, under the Constitution, can be deprived of his liberty without a trial by jury, but not therefore may no one be detained in prison for trial, for the law does not regard one as deprived of his liberty till after trial and the judgment of the court. Then the demand for the jury is not made in the interests of justice, not for the purpose of preventing persons from being given up as fugitive slaves who are not such, but for the purpose of screening those who are, and preventing those from being given up whom the Constitution declares shall be. We have in the Constitution pledged ourselves to surrender fugitive slaves ; we are bound to do it in the way provided by a law of Congress, and it is not at all to our credit to try to get a law which will practically defeat the end for which it is enacted.
The whole difficulty on the subject of slavery grows out of the fact that the antislavery party really denies the obligation of all constitutions and laws. It professes to appeal from the state to the law of humanity, or the law of God, for God and humanity are for it identical. Mr. Seward appeals to the Bible, and professes to find there a law of God which forbids him to do what he is required to do by the Constitution. The law of God is paramount to the Con­stitution ; we must obey God rather than man. And therefore he concludes that he is justifiable in refusing to perform that duty. If this be so, he is bound to resign his seat in the Senate ; for, ac­cording to him, the Constitution conflicts with the law of God. No man can lawfully hold office under, and swear to support, a con­stitution that is repugnant to the law of God. Mr. Seward, while he holds his seat, denies to himself the right to make the appeal from the Constitution ; for if he can lawfully hold his seat, the Con­stitution does not conflict with the law of God ; and if he continues to hold his seat, believing that it does so conflict, he practically declares that the fact of its so conflicting does not in the least derogate from Hs authority.    In either case he only declares that the appeal does not lie, and proves, probably, what few who know him are disposed to doubt, that he is as little to be esteemed as a lawyer as he is as a theologian.
Certainly we are not among those who deny that the law of God is in all cases supreme, and we certainly hold that no act of human legislation that conflicts with it is or can be binding ; but we do not hold that Mr. Seward or any one else has a right to assume that the law of God is whatever he chooses to have it, and to plead it as he makes it as his justification for refusing to perform his constitutional duty. Every one is bound to regard the Constitution as conform­able to the law of God, till he is able, on an authority paramount to that of the state, to declare the contrary. Those who wish to see the question settled, whether the Federal Constitution is incom­patible with the law of God, will do well to read Dr. Cummings's Lecture. That it is not contrary to the law of God to restore a fugitive slave to his master, is pretty evident from the fact that St. Paul restored, after having converted him, the fugitive slave Onesi-mus to his master Philemon. St. Paul is for us a better authority for what is or is not the law of God, than the Hon. Wm. H. Seward, William L. Garrison, or Abby Folsom. If every one is free to interpret the law of God as he pleases, there is an end of all law and of all government; for every one will interpret the Di­vine law in a sense that will annul every human law he does not choose to obey.
We confess we do not regard the slave question as of any great intrinsic importance. Slavery is an evil in relation to the master and the state, but, aside from its abuses, it is not necessarily an evil to the slave. The negroes are far better off on our Southern plan­tations than they are in their native Africa, and they would, as a body, lose rather than gain by emancipation. It is all very fine to declaim in favor of liberty and against slavery; but the negroes, if emancipated, would not, with individual exceptions, be free; they would be a degraded and dependent class, with all the responsibil­ities of freedom and none of its advantages. We have, in order to be sure of this, only to look at the free negroes in our own North­ern cities. They cannot take rank with the whites as free and independent citizens. If they were not separated from the domi­nant class by color, if they could become merged in the general population of the country, the case would be different; but as it now is, for the masters to emancipate them would be little less cruel than for a father to turn his sons and daughters under age out of his house, and bid them go and take care of themselves.
But be this as it may, slavery has in this country very nearly reached its limits, for the very sufficient reason that a much further extension of it would be ruinous to the slave-owners. Slave labor can sustain itself only in the production of certain staples for commerce, and in our country only in the production of rice, cotton, sugar, and tobacco, and these four great staples are pushed about as far as the markets of the world will admit. The demand for cotton is destined to diminish rather than increase, not only because foreign nations will be unable to take the quantities they now take, in con­sequence of the continually decreasing demand in our own country for their productions and manufactures, but because linen, silk, and wool will soon to a great extent take its place, as they are already beginning to do. The present commercial and industrial system, which builds up large cities, trading-houses, and corporations, while it reduces the mass of the people to abject poverty, cannot last for ever, and either the world will soon come to an end, or nations will be obliged to return to the system of really domestic, really home industry, - a system which will render families as well as nations comparatively independent of one another. . Commerce and manufactures have nearly, if not quite, reached their maximum, and a change in the industry of all civilized nations must before long take place, and in this change slavery will be abolished, because it will be utterly unable to sustain itself in competition with free labor. It must gradually die out, and it seems to us that all we are called upon to do in regard to it is, to correct, as far as we can legally and morally, its abuses. In a Christian community slavery is no great evil, and in a community not Christian, if you have not domestic slavery, you will have other evils still worse.
The greatest evil in any country just now, after the frightful infi­delity so prevalent, is fanaticism, which goes by the name of phi­lanthropy, and our grand error has been in indulging it till it has become nearly unmanageable. In no State in the Union, we are sorry to say, is this moral pestilence more rife than in this ancient Commonwealth. It infects our whole society, and turns a large portion of our citizens into madmen. It destroys our judgments, our moral life, and is fast bringing us into a bondage to which Southern slavery is freedom. It rages in the legislature and in the halls of justice, and spits its venom from sectarian pulpit and press. The well-disposed are overawed, the sober-minded are browbeaten into silence, and even the brave wellnigh quail before it. Some­thing must be done to stay it, or all that is dear and sacred to Christians and freemen is gone. Not a few of those who see and deplore the evil are guilty of a shameful cowardice in regard to it. Let the honest, sober, and sensible portion of the community resist it boldly, denounce it, and give it no quarter, not even a hearing, and it would soon cease to exist. But we have not dared to do this. We have tampered with it, we have courted it, hoping to turn it to the advantage of our sect or our party. It is high time to put an end to this worse than folly, and to speak and act like high-minded and moral men.    Most happy are we that Mr. Webster, from his place in the Senate of the United States, has set us an example worthy of imitation, and we hope that his timely word will rouse our courage, and inspire us with resolution to sliake off the tyranny of fanaticism.