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The Interference Of The Federal Government For The Recovery of Fugitive Slaves

The Interference Of The Federal Government For The Recovery of Fugitive Slaves image
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The federal constitution contains the following clause: "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 in labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." At the time this constitution was adopted, the cultivation and manufacture of cotton had not so far progressed, as to paralyze by their profits, the conscience of the nation, or to divest it of the sense of shame; and hence this clause although relating to slaves, forbears to name them. It was inserted to satisfy the South, and its obvious meaning is, that slaves escaping into States in which slavery is abolished by law, shall not therefore be deemed free by the State authorities, but shall be delivered by those authorities, to his master. This clause impose an obligation on the States, but confers no power on Congress; and the Constitution moreover declares, that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the State respectively, or to the people. Hence it follows that as the power of recovering these fugitives is not delegated to Congress, it is reserved to the several States, who are bound to make such laws as may be deemed proper, to authorize the master to recover his slave. Nevertheless, the Federal Government in its zeal for slavery, has not scrupled to assume power never delegated to it, and has exercised that power in gross and contemptuous violation of every principle, which in free countries, directs the administration of justice. If a Virginian enters New York, and claims as his property a horse which be finds in the possession of one of our citizens, an impartial jury is selected to pass on his claim, - witnesses are orally, and publicly examined, - the claimant is debarred from all private intercourse with the jury, - he may not be alone with them for a moment, nor may a whisper pass between them; and when the trial is over, the jury retire to deliberate upon their verdict, under the charge of an officer, who is sworn to keep them apart, and not to suffer any person to speak with them, nor can the horse be at last recovered but with the unanimous consent of the jury. But let the Virginian claim, not the horse, but the CITIZEN HIMSELF as his beast of burden, and the Federal Government makes all things easy for him. By the Act of 1793, the slaveholder may himself without oath, process of any kind, seize his prey, where he can find him, and at his leisure, (for no time is specified.) drag him before any Justice of the Peace in the place, whom he may prefer. This justice is a state officer, and of the lowest judicial grade, and under no legal obligation to execute an Act of Congress, and entitled to no fees for his services. He is therefore peculiarly accessible to improper influences. - Before this magistrate, who is not authorized to compel the attendance of witnesses in such a case, the slaveholder brings his victim, and if he can satisfy this judge af his own choice, "by oral testimony or affidavit," and for aught that appears in the law, by his own oath, that his claim is well founded, the wretched prisoner is surrendered to him as a slave for life, torn from his wife and children, bereft of all the rights of humanity, and converted into a chattel - an article of merchandize - a beast of burden! The Federal Constitution declares: - "In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved"; but the Act of 1793, in suits in which " the value in controversy" exceeds all estimation, dispenses with trial by jury and indeed with almost every safeguard of justice and personal liberty. This law, iniquitous as it is, does not require State officers to anticipate the pursuit of the slaveholder, and to seize and imprison their fellow men, on mere suspicion that they may be claimed as slaves. What the Federal Government dares not do in the States, it accomplishes in its own exclusive territory, and in a manner which, for atrocious wickedness and tyranny, leaves far in the shady the vilest acts of European despotism. This is indeed strong language; but alas! language is too feeble adequately to represent the turpitude of the laws and practices sanctioned by the Federal Government, in the District under its "exclusive jurisdiction." By the Act of 1793, a justice can take no step for the restoration of a fugitive slave, till the fact of his being one is proved before him on oath. But in the Metropolis of the Nation - in the city called by the name of the Father of his Country, a Justice of the Peace may commit to the United States Prison, and into the custody of the United States Marshal, any man he may choose to suspect of being a fugitive slave. Notice is then given in the newspapers of the commitment, and the unknown owner is warned to take away his property, or it will be sold according to law, to pay JAIL FEES. - (Jay's view of the action of the Federal Government on slavery )