Speech Of Mr. Giddings, Of Ohio: Delivered In The House Of R...
[CONTINUED] I hold, that if the slaves of Georgia or any other State leave their masters, the Federal Government has no constitutional authority to employ our army or navy for their recapture, or to apply to the national treasure to re-purchase them. We possess no constitutional power to do either. If, however, gentlemen of the South, who hold to a strict and rigid construction of that instrument, will point me to the clause of the Constitution containing such authority, I will confess my obligations to them. - Such power would necessarily include the power to tax the free States to an indefinite extent for the support of slavery, and for arresting every fugitive slave who has fled from his master, within the several States of this Union. Such power I deny most distinctly and emphatically. But, sir, we have as much nght to do this directly, as we have to do it indirectly. We have as much power to employ our army and navy in recapluring fugitive slaves, as we have to make a treaty with the Indians to retake such fugitives, and then employ our army and navy to compel the Indians to do it. We have as much power to tax the free States, and supply the money directly for the purchase of fugitive slaves, as we have to tax them for carrying on a war for the purpose of compeliing the surrender of such slaves; or even apply to the national treaaure to the holding of such treaties. In truth, sir, we have no power whatever over the subject or institution of slavery within the several States of this union. We have neither the power to sustain nor abolish it, to create or destroy it. I mean, sir, that we have no such powers delegated to us for any purpose whatever. We have not the power to sustain it in the South, nor establish it in the North. i know it is said, and repeated, and asserted, that a portion of the people of the free States hold that we have the power to abolish slavery in the States. I can only say that I have never met with any intelligent man who has advanced such doctrine in my hearing. For my own part, I believe we have as much power to establish slavery in the free States as we have to abolish it in the slave States. I say nothing of the constitutional power of Congress over the slave trade between the States. But, Mr. Chairman, I am not willing to believe that any gentleman on this floor will urge the right of taxing the freemen of the North for the holding in slavery the colored men at the South. I would not use those distinctions of North and South, could I avoid them. Yet I think no apology is due from me on this point, as I have constantly heard them used, and repeated, and reiterated by gentlemen from a certain portion of the Union, during the three years I have had a seat in this hall. But, sir, I wish further to look into this power, or rather the want of power, in Congress over slavery within the States of this Union. In December, A.D. 1838, the gentleman from New Hampshire (Mr. Atherton,) introduced to this House a resolution expressing the sense of the House in regard to this power. [The Chairman informed Mr. Giddings that the discussion of those resolutions would not be in order.] I had, Mr. Chairman, no idea of discussing those resolutions. I merely refer to one of them, as expressing the views of the North and of the South on this subject. It speaks the voice of all the hundred and ninety-eight members who voted for it. - It reads as follows: "Resolved, That this Government is a Government of limited powers: that by the Constitution of the United States, it has no power whatever over the institution of slavery in the several States of this Union." This resolution received the almost unanimous support of this House. There were one hundred and ninety eight votes in favor of it, and but six against it. I voted for it myself because I deemed it correct. Every member from the slave States voted for it. I shall be slow to suspect that any of those gentlemen will now change their position, and say that we have power to sustain slavery; and that in voting for the resolution, they only intended to say that we have no power whatever over the subject to abolish it. I am aware Mr. Chairman, that the Federal Government has at times interposed its influence to obtain for the citizens of slave States, compensation for slaves taken by Indian tribes and by Great Britain. But this fact furnishes no argument against the position I have assumed. The cases alluded to were merely the acts of the Executive, interposed by common consent, without discussion or objection, for the purpose of obtaining from such tribe or Government, a compensation which we have uniformly refused when demanded of ourselves; for I believe it to be well understood, that we have never in any instance paid the owner for the loss of a slave, even when such slave was pressed into the public service and killed while thus in the employ of the Government. The Florida war, having its origin in attempts on the part of the Federal Government to sustain slavery in one of the States of this Union, is so far unconstitutional, and is directly opposed to the doctrine contained in the resolution above quoted, which received the unanimous support of the slave States. And now, having called the attention of the committee on the remote and principal cause of this war, I will ask their attention to some of the more proximate and immediate causes. On the 21st of May, 1836, this House adopted a resolution, calling upon the then President for "information respecting the causes of the Florida war." On the 3d of June, 1839, the President transmitted to the House sundry papers relating to that subject; among which may be found an address or petition of nearly one hundred gentlemen, said to be among the principal inhabitants of Florida, calling on the President to interpose the power of the General Government for the purpose of securing them in the possession of their slaves. These gentlemen, speaking of the Seminole Indians, say: "While this indomitable people continue where they now are, the owners of slaves in our own territory, and even in the States contiguous, cannot or a moment, in any thing like security, enjoy this kind of property." This was a plain, direct, and palpable request for the President to interpose the strong arm of the nation in behalf of slavery. Nor did the President remain deaf to such request; but he immediately endorsed an order on the back of the petition, directing the Secretary of War to make inquiry, and, if the charges were found true, "to direct the Indians to prepare forthwith to remove west of the Mississippi." Soon after this, the treaty of Payne's Landing, having remained nearly two years unnoticed by the President was sent to the Senate for their sanction; and every preparation was made to compel the Indians by physical force to remove west of the Mississippi. A correspondence was carried on by the officers of our army; and all the military force that would well be brought to Florida, was concentrated there, for the purpose of compelling the Indians at the point of the bayonet, to emigrate. This was done without even laying the subject before Congress, or asking for any legislative sanction. It is not my intention to enlarge on this point, or to comment upon this very extraordinary interposition of Executive influence in favor of slavery, without constitutional or legitimate sanction. Neither have I time to comment upon the manner in which the treaty of Paine's Landing was obtained from the Indians; nor upon the still more extraordinary method of enforcing the Indians to an observance of the compact by the use of the bayonet, without consulting the legislative authority, in defiance of justice, and without precedent. But I desire to examine into the causes of this war, and discover how far it has had its origin in attempts by the Executive to support and maintain slavery at the national expense, and in violation of the rights of the free States. In doing this, I shall speak from no vague conjecture or uncertain suspicion; but what I say shall be "from the book," from documentary evidence and official reports. The address to which I have called the attention of the committee, estimates the number of negroes among the Seminole Indians at that time, at more than five hundred; and they declare it as their belief that four-fifths of them are fugitive slaves. On the 20th of January, 1834, Governor Duval, in a letter to the Commissioner of Indian affairs, says: "The slaves belonging to the Indians have a controlling influence over the minds of their masters, and are entirely opposed to any change of residence. It will be best at once to adopt firm and decided measures; such as will demonstrate to the Indians the determination of the Government to see the treaty justly and fairly executed. This cannot be done until the bands of outlaws, (fugitive slaves) mentioned in the agent's report, are arrested; for so long as they are permitted to remain, every Indian that is unwilling to emigrate will seek their protection." No man, perhaps, possessed better knowledge of these facts than Governor Duval, who assures us that the negroes controlled the Indians, and that the Indians saught the protection and support of the fugitive slaves. He further assures us that nothing could be done while those fugitive slaves were permitted to remain in Florida. If the gentlemen will bear this advice in mind, they will better understand the policy that subsequently guided our army against the Indians. In a letter dated January 26, 1834 Governor Duval says: "The slaves belonging to the Indians must be made to fear for themselves before they will cease to influence the minds of their masters." "You may be assured (says he,) that the first step towards the emigration of these Indians must be the breaking up of the runaway slaves and outlaw Indians." This we are informed that the war must be first waged against fugitive slaves. Perhaps I ought to explain that slavery among the Indians is very different from what it is among the whites. It is comparative independence. Hence the slaves of the Indians have a perfect horror of slavery among the white people. Of course the fugitive slaves and the Indian slaves become intimate friends, and act in concert for the liberty of all. [Mr. Campbell, of South Carolina, called Mr. Giddings to order, and stated that the member from Ohio was evidently assailing indirectly an institution, which, by rules of the House, was not liable to be assailed. The Chairman said that the gentleman from Ohio has expressed his intention to discuss the Florida war, and he understood the remark as having reference that subject. The Chair could not attribute a different motive from that expressed by the gentleman himself. I am, (said he,) therefore, constrained to say the gentleman from Ohio is in order.] Mr. Giddings resumed. I was not aware, Mr. Chairman, that our rules protected from discussion any institution whatever. I will, however, assure the gentleman from South Carolina that I shall only allude to the subject of slavery so far as it stands connected with the Florida war. That so far as it has been the means of drawing forty millions of dollars from the public treasury, and most of it from the free States, I intend to assail it, and no further. Governor Duval says, "these slaves must first be made to fear for themselves." The war was first to be waged against slaves, for the reason that they influenced the minds of their masters in favor of liberty. In other words, the war must be directed against the right of a slave to express his mind to an Indian master on the subject of human rights. Sir, these slaves were made to fear for themselves in pursuance of these intimations of Governor Duval, as I will now endeavor to show this committee. - On the 28th October, 1834, General Thompson, in a letter addressed to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, says: - "There are many very likely negroes in this nation, (Seminole.) Some of the whites in the adjacent settlements manifest a restless desire to obtain them, and I have no doubt that Indian raised negroes are now in possession of the whites." - Thus, sir, it seems that kidnapping was not unknown in that country. This same General Thompson, the accredited officer of this Government on the 9th of January 1836, advises Government "that an expedition should be set on foot for the double purpose of driving the Indians within their boundary, and to capture negroes, many of whom it is believed, are runaway slaves. And, sir, our army was put in motion to capture negroes and slaves, as we shall find in the sequel. But I wish to call the attention of the committee for a few moments to the manner in which these slaves, in the words of Governor Duval, were 'made to fear for themselves.' On the 28th July, 1835, John Walker, one of the Apalachicola chiefs belonging to the Seminole band, wrote General Thompson, Indian Agent, as follows: "I am (says he) induced to write you, in consequence of the depredations making, and attempting to be made, upon my property, by a company of negro stealers, some of whom are from Columbus, Georgia, and have connected themselves with Brown and Douglass. I should like your advice how I am to act. I dislike to make any trouble or to have any difficulty with any of the white people. But if they trespass on my premises and my rights, I must defend myself in the best way I can. If they do make this attempt, and I have no doubt they will, they must bear the consequences. But is there no civil law to protect me? Are the free negroes and the negroes belonging in this town to be stolen away publicly, and, in face of law and justice, carried off and sold to fill the pockets of these worse than land pirates? - Douglass and his company hired a man who has two large trained dogs for the purpose, to come down and take Billey. - He is from Mobile, and follows for a livelihood catching runaway negroes." This, sir, is the language of a savage, addressed to his civilized neighbors. He called in vain for protection. A few days after the date of this letter, he was robbed of all his negroes: so says the report of the United States Attorney, addressed to the Secretary of War, and dated April 21, 1836. But of the freemen kidnapped at the same time, we are not informed. At all events, "the slaves were made to fear for themselves," as Governor Duval advised. Can we wonder that these Indians were driven to acts of desperation? Here, sir, is the first mention I have met of the use of "bloodhounds" in this Florida war. They were used by "negro stealers," for the purpose of catching the colored people of Florida, and our officers have copied the example. But I intend giving further examples of the use of bloodhounds before I close. I have, however, no time for comment. My object is to place facts before the people of this nation, and let every man make his own comments, and draw his own conclusions. I will give one more example of teaching slaves to fear for themselves." E-con-chattimico was also an Indian chief of the Seminole band, living upon the Apalachicola river, and was, perhaps, one who signed the treaty of Camp Moultrie in 1832, by which we solemnly pledged the faith of this nation to protect the Indians in the enjoyment of their lives and property. This chief is said to have owned twenty slaves, valued $15,000. These "negro stealers" were seen hovering around his plantation, and their object could not be misunderstood. By the advise of the sub-agent, he armed himself and people for the purpose of defending themselves. When the negro stealers learned that E-con-chattimico's people had armed themselves in defence of liberty, (for they considered Indian slavery liberty compared with white slavery,) they raised a report that the Indians had armed themselves for the purpose of uniting with the hostile Seminoles, and murdering the white people. On learning this, E-con-chattimico at once delivered up his arms to the white people, and threw himself upon their protection. Disarmed, and unable to defend his people, they were immediately kidnapped, taken off, and sold into interminable bondage. E-con-chattimico now calls on us to pay him for the loss he has sustained in the violation of our treaty, in which we solemnly covenanted to protect him and his property. Robbed, abused, insulted, and deceived, he emigrated to the West, and now looks to us for a redress of the wrongs he has sustained. I give the substance of his statement, as related by him in his petition, and communicated by General Thomson, Governor Duval, and the District Attorney of East Florida, and sowrn to by several witnesses. [To be continued.]
Signal of Liberty
Joshua R. Giddings