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Speech Of Mr. Giddings Of Ohio

Speech Of Mr. Giddings Of Ohio image
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Mr. Giddings remarked, that the recommitment of the bill, in order to obtain a report of the facts involved, as proposed by the gentleman from Vermont, [Mr. Collamer,] would be equivalent to a rejection of it. No, (said he,) we must take the case without proof or we must reject it. There is not a scintilla of legal evidence in the case. Mr. Cbapman desired to explain, [Mr. Giddings yielding the floor,] and said he wo'd refer the committee to the affidavits on file ; there were three of them. Mr. Giddings resurned. He said he would assure the gentleman from Maryland that he had carefully examined those affidavits. Not one of the wimesses atteinpted to speak to any iact witliin his knowledge. They each referred to what tliey had heard other persons say, who knew no more in relation tothe matter than the witnesses themselves. I repeat, (said he,) we have no proof to a single fact invülved. ]f we legislóte on the subject, we must do so in utter ignorance of all the eircumstances attending it. Yet I do not regard that as a matter of much importance, when compared with the principies involved. Before I enter upon an examination of the case, however, I wish to say that the charge which Southern members have raised, that Northern gentlemen have introduced the subject of slavery into this debate, was not unexpected to me. It is in strict keeping with their usual practice. What are the facts ? A slaveholder introduces a bill appropriating the money of the nation to pay for human flesh. My friend from New Hampshire objects to ils passage, ior the reason that he is unwilüng to have the burdens of that institution thrown upon :he people of the free States, and straightway five Southern members follow him in debate, each charging him with introducing the exciting subject of slavery into the discussion. Do gentlemen suppose they can thus mislead the public? Do they beüeve that we shall sit here, with silent tongues and sealed lips, and suffer such bilis as this to pass this body ? I assure them, most respectfully, that we shall oppose all attempts to involve our people in the expense, the guilt, or disgrace of slavery. No Northern man has ever, to my knowledge, introduced that question here, except for the purpose of separating the people of the free States from ils support. No, sir ; if any Southern man can point to an instance in which members from the North have brought the question of slavery into this hal!, except to defend our people from the encroachments of that institution, let them now rise and sustain their charges with proof. - [Mr. G. paused a moment, and then resumed.] Mr. Speaker,where are those gentlemen who made these charges ? Why, sir, "they now roar you gently as sucking doves." I now proceed to examine the case before us. I repeat, that the claim is entirely unsupported by proof. But the petitioner states that she is the widow of Benjamin Hodgr?s, late of Maryland ; that he owned a slave who in 1814, was laken away in August of that year by the British army, on their return from this city to the tJhesapeake bay. Now, sir, this statement of the case gives the petitioner no claim upon this Government, unless we have become holden by some act of ours. - This seems well understood by the petitioner and by the committee who reported the bill. They therefore refer to our lieaty of peace with Great Brita'm, signed at Ghent on the 24th December, 1814 ; the first article of which provides, " that each party shall evacúate all territory, places and possessions, taten during the war," " without deslruction or carrying away any of the artillery or other public property originally captured in said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange or ratifications of this trcaty, or any sluves or other private property. Oui Government claimed, under this treaty, that England should pay our slaveholders for all slaves taken from our shores by the British fleet when they left our coast. England refused, and the subject was referred to the Emperor of Russia. He decided that the British Government was bound to pay for slaves thus carried away when they left our shores, after the signing of the treaty. This led to the treaty of St. Petersburgh, dated the 17th June, 1822, by the first article of which provisión is made for establisbing a board of two commissioners and two arbitrators, to determine the claims piesented by the people of this Government. This board were constituted the joint agenls of both Governments. His Britanic Majesty appointed one commissioner and one arbitrator; and the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Señale, appointed the other commissioner and arbitrator. England never trusted this fund to Congress for distribution ; that was to be done by the joint commission. The secorid article provided for the ascertaining of the average value of slaves. " The third articlo reads as follows : " When the average value of slaves shall have been ascertained and fixed, the two commissioners shall constitute a board for the examination of the claims which are to be subtniited to them ; and they shall notify the fsecretary of State of the Uniled States that they are ready to receive a definite list of the slaves, and other private property for which he citizens of the United States claim indemnification ; it being understood and hereby agreed that the commission shall not take cognizance of, nor receive, and that his Britanic Majesty shall not be required to make pay ment for any claim for private proper 1 'y not conlained in said list." There is no pretence that the slave in question was named in said list. The report of the commiitee admits thal he was not. - (Calis from various parts of the hall were made for the reading of this article again. - Mr. G. again read it, and proceeded.] This sir, was our distinct compact with G. Britain. We solemnly stipulated that no claims should he made on that Government, nor should she be required to make compensation for claims oiher than those contained in the List furnished by our Secretary of Staie. To-day we are called on to appropriate this money to the payment of other claims. We are asked to viólate this solemn treaty, to disregard the pledged faith of the nation, in order to give this slaveholder the value of the body, of the bones and muscles, the blood and sinews, of his fellovv-man. But, sir, in order that no room for cavil should be left, the fifth articlo provided that " the decisión of the two commissioners, or a niajority of the board, shall in all cases be conclusive as to number, value, or the ownership of slaves, or other property for which indemnity is to be made." They were not only to confine themselves to the list furnished them by our Secretary of State, but their decisión upon the claims mentioned on said Hst was to be entirely conclusive upon the parties, Under this treaty, the members of this board were appointed, met iu this city, organized, took the oath office, and called on the Secretary of State for the list mentioned. Il was furnished ; but there was no claim for this slave upon it. They proceeded to examine and adjudicate upon claims presented on said list. When ihey had completed their labors, they found the amount of all claims on said Hst to be " twelvc hundred and our thousand nine hundred and sixty dollars." - This was ihe precise amount of c'aims allowed by the board, who acted as he agents of Great Britain and of the United States. And on the 13th of November, 1826, at London, another convention was entered into, by the first article of which it was provided that his Britannic Majesty should pay to this Government the sum just mentioned, " for the use of persons entitled to indemnification and compensation by virtue of said decisión." - Sir, to divert this money, or any portion of it, to the payment of other claims, would be a violation of the trust reposed in this Government, a breach of this solemn covenant, and a total disregard of our pledged faith. - If there be one cent more than to meet those claims, there has -been a mistake or fraud on our part. In 1842, as chairman of the Committee of Claims, I held a correspondence with the department on this subject, and was then informed that about four thousand dollars of this fund had not then been paid out to those to whom il was due. I now understand there are about two thousand dollars still remaining undistributed. But it belongs to the persons to whom it was awarded, as much as though it were bank stock ; and when they or their heirs cali for it at the Treasury, they must receive it, whether the demand be made this year or a century henee. The bil!, therefore, is nothing more or less than a proposition to pay for the slave frorn the public treasury. The cotnmiitee who reported this bill admit that the claim does not come wilhin the provisions of the treaty ; yet they say the petitioner lost the slave, and they propose to pay for his loss. Sir, shall we pay for all slaves that have been lost ? Any other man who bas had a slave run away bas an equal claim with this petitioner. The owner of any one of the Iwenty thousand fugitves now in Canada has as much claim upon the national treasure for compensaiion as the petitioner. If we pay this claim, the money must come from the pockets of the People. The people of the free States must pay at least threefourths of it. If we pay this, shall we pay for all fugitive slaves ? There are probably thirty or perhaps forty thousand masters who vvill present claims on us for their locomotive property, each of which is as meritorious as the one under consideration. Mr. Chairman, at the very moment we are thus called on to legislate for the support of slavery in Maryland and in olher slave States, we are told that we have no power whatever over tbrat insiitution ; that it is so far beyond our control ihat we must not even discuss its merits. Now, sir, I desire that Southern gentlemen shall take soine position, and that they shall remain in it at least during this session of Congress. If we have jurisdictto;i of slavery in the States, let Southern men adtnit the fact, and let us at once abolish it from our Union, and wipe out the foul blot that has so long disgraced our nalional character. If we have not jurisdiclion of it, why are we called on to legislate for its support ? If it be a State institución, why is it constantly dragged into the discussions of this hall ? - Why are we called on to take jurisdiction of it ? Why are its burdens sought to be cast upon the people of the free States ? Why are we to particípate in its crimes? A year or two since, we were not permitted to speak our views in regard to slavery, for the reason as Southern gentleman then said, that we had no power over it ; to-day, they ask us to legislate for its benefit. Yes, sir; it is an established fact, and history will record it, that we are now legislating upon the rights of a master to liis slave in Maryland - not at the insiance of Northern membera - no; the bill was reported by a gentleman from South Carolina, [Mr. Rhett,] and we Northern men sit here with all becoming gravity, and solemnly enter into an investigation of this man's right to the body of his fellow-man in that State. I repeat, sir, we have jurisdiction of this subject, or we have not. I am willing to leave the selectio ) of either horn of this dilemma to Southern men. They may take their choice ; but let them choosc one or the other. Let us know vvhere to find them. I have at all times denied that we have any constitutional povvers in relation to this institution. But if we have the constitutional right to legislate oh the subject, and to appropriate the treasure of the nation in the inanner proposed, then, sir, let uschangethe form of the bill before us, and give the twö hundred and eighty dollars which it appropriates to the slave instead of the inaster. - That proposition would be much more consonant to my feelinjjs, and is equally within our power, and much nearer our duty. I would go further, and would grant fifty or a hundred dollars to each slave who shall escape from his tnaster, as a bounty for his ergy, and to begin the world with. But Southern men will start back with horror at this proposition. Yet, sir, il' we are to appropriate the money of our people on this subject, I insist ihat the appropriation shall be for the promotion of freedom, and not of slavery. I repeat, that I am willing Southern members should choose their position. - They may give us jurisdiclion of slavery, or they may retain it in their several States. - But if they place it in our hands, then I propose at once to abolish it, to strike it from existence. But, sir, I teil Southern gentlemen that we will not take jurisdiction of it to-day, and deny that we have any power over it to-morrow. We will not face to the right, to the left, and to the right-about, at the bidding of the slave power. Sir, I insist that we have no conslitutional power to sit here and appropriate our time to the investigation of slavery. It is an indignity to the people of our free States. They sent us here for no such object. I say to gentlemen of the South, " Talie care of 'your slavery in your own way ; vje will have nothing to do with it. lts blessings and its curses, its evils and its benefits, its vices, its crimes, ïts guilt, and its disgrace, are yours. Keep tbein to yourselves. We will not contamínate our moral or our political purity by any participation in them." Even during this present discussion, gentlemen have complained that we Northern men are striving to extend our power over slavery. This is their perpetual cry on all occasions. Why, sir, from the time I first took my seat in this hall tothe present day, 1 have opposed all attempts to connect slavery with this Government. I repeat what I said a few days since, that as early ns 1842 I was driven from my seat in this body for presenting resolutions denying the power of the Federal Government to involve the free States in the support of the coastwise slave trade. Mr. Holmes, of South Carolina, interrupted Mr. Giddings, who yielded him the floor. He then stated that Mr. Giddings was not censured for presenting such resolutions, but for presenting a petition for dissolving the Union, and surreptitiously sending it to a committee of this House. Mr. Giddings resumed. Sir, it is a most lamentable fact, that whenever we speak upon this subject, slaveholders in this House become, for the time being, actually demented. Now, there is not the least doubt that some phantom is haunting the disorded iinagination of the gentletnan, [Mr. Holmes,] to the effect which he has named. Sir, my resolutions are upon record, and will bear to those who shall follovv us the sentiments I have expressed here to-day. Mr. Holmes (ioterrupting Mr. Giddings) repeated what he had previously said. Mr. Giddings resumed. The gentleman is entirely mistaken ; his assertion is false, though surely not so intended. Mi'. Gayle called Mr. Giddings to order. The Chairman (Mr. Sims, of South Carolina) decided that Mr. Giddings had violated no rule of the House. Mr. Giddings resumed. Sir, I well know the gentleman from South Carolina is incapable of asserting an intentional falsehood. - And his persisting in the asserüon is conclusive proof of his dementation. I repeat, that in no instance, from my advent into this Hall down to the present day, have I ceased to oppose all interference with slavery. I have eudeavored, to the extent of my humble powers, to separate this Government and the people of the free States from all conneetion with it. I shall contiuue those efforts, and thousands and tens of thousands of others are exerting their moral and political influence to effect that object, and we shall not Ceaso our exertions, until, by God's blessing, we shall redeem ourselves and the Government from all support of that institution. But, sir, I will express my thanks to the gentleman from South Carolina for bringing ihis subject before us in its present from. It is now under consideraron, and must be disposed of; and I most devoutly thank my God that he lias permitted me to see a time when Northern men must act ; when there is no way of evading this question ; when the doughfaces of this body will be constrained to vote on this identical question ; and that such action will be public, and their constituents and the country may know and bear witness to the manner in which they meet the question before us. Will they vote to tax their constituents, at the dictation of Southern members, to pay for a fugitive slave who ran away from Maryland thirty years ago? They must do it, or tliey must refuse to do it. - They must now serve God or Mammon. - They can no longer act both ways. The subject will soon be decided by the monosyllable yes orno, to be pronounced by each member. It bas been said that we desire to keep this money in the Treasury. I, Sir, have no such wish. God forbid ! It is the.price of blood. It was obtained from Greal Britain by the Executive without consulting this body. The treaties and conventions were negotiated, and the money obtained by the treaty-making power, with which we have no riglu to interfere. The President and Senate undertook to act as the agent and atiorney of those slaveholders. They obtained the money from Great Britain ; they have paid out all bul two thousand dollars ; let them dispose of that as they please. If the gentleman who reported this bill will modify it, so as to let the President dispose of the remainder to whoni and as he pleases, I will vote for it. He is a&laveholder ; he understands this dealing in human flesh ; I do not. Let him have the money and let him pay it out. Iwill have nothing to do with such business. I differ from my honorable friend frotn Vermont, who gave us such a lucid expose of this treaty and its stipulations. I underatood him to say, that if the Committee would take the case again into consideration, and show such facts as will bring this slave within the provisions of our trealy wilh Greal Britain, he Mr. Holmes eent for ilie Journal of the Houss containing the proceedins of Mr. Giddings' censure, and. havingnxamined it. said v mre m the subject. ' will vote to pay Cor him. Sir, I will do no such thhg. 1 vvill not, in my capacity as legislator, acting as the representative of freemen, degrade myself, while sitting in ihis hall, by an inquiry into the price and valué oí our common humanity. I will not disgrace my constituents, while acling upon an inquiry as to the tille-deeds by which one man holds another as property. I will nöt sit here to inquire as to the valué, in dollars and cents, of human bones and muscles, blood and sinews. No, sir; the history of our legislation shall not bear to coming generations the fact, that the twentieth Congressional district ofOhio, at this age of the world, with the light and knovvledge which now beams upon us, vvas disgraced by its representative in this hall entering upon such an inquiry. My constituents do not estimate man, the childof immortaüty, crealed in the image of his God, with exalted nature, his undying intellect, by the valué of sordid dust. I wish to address some inquines to the honorable rhairman of the Committee who reported this bilí, [Mr. Smiih, of Connecticut.] He appears to have united in this extraordinary report, which estimates the valué of this man at precisely two tundred and eíghly dollars. That gentleman is from Connecticul - from the very county in which my parents long resided. I should like to inquire of him the price current of humanity in that land of steady habits. By what rule does he anive at the valué of men ? Is he governed by the brilliancy of their virtues ? By their intellectual endowments ? Does he esiimate men by their religious devotion, or by their learning? ís he guided by their complexion ? If so, which is the most valuable, black or white ? Or is a mixture of blood to be preferred ? - What price, iu gold and silver, does he place upon his constituents? How would he sell them ? Sir, I feel humbled when Isee Northern Representatives consent lo enter upon this slave-dealing legislation, and become the instrumenis of the slave power, to strike down the honor, the dignity, and independence of the Northern States. I appeal to Northern Democrats and Northern Whigs. By what rule are you govemed when you decide upon the value of your brother man? When in-v quired of by your constituents as to your estimate, will you say that he was valuable on account of his political principies? That he was a supporter of Mr. Polk, or of Mr. Clay ? And when they ask you if you believe that " self-evident truth, that all men are hom eqiial,"jNhat will be your answer ? Will you, like honest men, admit that you have contributed your vote to take the money from their pockets to pay for Southern slaves ? lf you do, I apprehend they will teil you, bereafter, to deal on your own account, while trading in human flesh, and not to use their funds for such purpose. But this bill is based upon the principie, that under our Federal Constitution man may hold his fellow-man as property. I speak not of the slave States, but of the Federal Government. I deny that we possess the power under the Constitution, to imbrute our fellowmen and render them property - that we have power to disrobe man of the dignity in which he was created, tear from him the rights God bas given him, and deliver him over to the arbitrary will of his brother man, to toil at another's bidding, ciinge beneath his owner's lash, tremble at his frown, and be sold at his will. Such powershave not been granted us by the people of this nation. Such doctrines cannot find support in this hall at the present age of the world. Mr. Holmes, of South Carolina, interrupting Mr. Giddings, said that the Southetn States would hold their slaves as property, in spite of any act of the Federal Government, or the efforts of Northern abolitionists. Mr. Giddings. I have nothing to do with the Southern States ; they coutrol their own policy ; their barbarism has no relption to my duties as a member of Congress. Il' ihey see fit to make one-half of their people the property of t'ie other half, we cannot interfere with their laws. If, with the inhabi'.ants of the Fejee islands, they become cannibals, and eat each other, we have not the power to prohibit such revolting practice by our legislation. All we can do is, to see that they shall not disgrace nor degrade this Government, nor the people of the free States, either by their slavery or their cannibalism. Our motto is, " Keep your slavery, your disgusting barbarity, within your own States ! Bring it not into this hall, nor attempt to involve us in its burdens or its crimes." I repeat, that we are not now acting under the constitutions of either of the slave or of the free States, but under our Federal compact. The formation of that instrument was preceded by a long and arduous struggle for freedom, for the rights of humanity. [CONCLUDED NEXT WEEK.]