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The Mississippi Case

The Mississippi Case image
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Circumstunces beyond my control hav again interrupled my report of the arguments before the Supreme Court of th United Statev. I have, however, taken th opporlunity to learn the exact historyam nature of the decisión ofthat august tribu nal. I find, in the first place, that th opinión of the Court was given by Judg Thompson, in favor of tho Defcndent in Error - the holder of the endorsed note establishing the validity of the note giver fur slaves. The decisión has not yet been published, but I have had accees to the munuscript opinion3 on record in tho Cletk's oflice at the Capítol. The case urned, Judge Thompson said, entirely on he construction andopcration of the clause n the Constitution of Mississippi. The question h, whether that chuaeper se, in erdicts the bringing of slaves into the State fur sule, or whether it is only a di rocdon to the legislature to pruhibit. And on this point, the Court deeided thnt the Uonstitution wos to be construed as direc ory to the Legislature, and not as itsel constiiuting the act unlawful. The decisioa of the case rendercd it unnecessary to inquire whether the provisión in the constitution of Mississippi is or is not repugnant to the provisión of the Consütution of the United States, which empowers Congress to regúlate commerce 'among the several States," But Judge M'Lean said that the latler question had been so fully argued and with surpa6sing ability on boih sides,and was a question of o great moment and dclicacy, that he hought proper to state his viewa on that )ranch of the case. He therefore gave )is opinión, in a very elabórate form, vhich we shall publish in its order as we progress in the case. The general tenor of his urgument was ihis. "The Consiitutiun treats slaves as persons. By the laws of certain State?, elaves are treated as property, and the Constituion of Mississippi forbids their being uought into that State, by ciiizenö of other States, for sale or as merchandize - tlerchandize is a comprehensive term, nnd may include every article of traffic whether foreign or domestic, which is( properly embraced by a comraereial regu lation. But f slaves are considered in some of the States as merchandize, tha 1 cannot divest them of the leading and con trolling qualiiy of persons, by which they are designated in the Constitution. The character of property Í3 given them by the i local hw. This law is respected, and al , rights under it are protected by the feuda , authorities, but the constitution acts upon slaves as persons not as property. "The power over slavery belongs to the 1 Slates respectively. It s local in its character and in its effects. And the transfer or sale of slave9 cannot be separated frora i this power. It is indeed an essentjal par i ofit. Each State has a right to protect itself against the avarice and intrusión o the slave dealer - to guard its citizens against the inconveniences of a alave population. Tle right to exercise this power by a State is higher and deeper than the Constitution. The evil inyolves the prosperity, and may endanger tho existence of ' a State. lts power to guard against or to ■ remedy the evil, rests upon the law ol 8elf-preservation - a law vital to every community, and especially to a sovereign State." Chief Justice Taney then observed, that it had not been the intention of the Court to state an opinión on this point, but since his brolher M'Lean had thougut proper to give his views, he dcemed it expedient to give a brief statement of his opinión. He concurred, so far as I can see, in the most or all of Judge M'Lean's positions. On the main point, he declared explicitly that "The power over this subject is exclusively wilh the 6everal States; and each of them have a right to decide for itself, whether it will or will not allow persons of this description to be brought within its liinits, from another State, either for saleor for any other purpose and, ,also to pre acribe the manner and mode in which they introduced, and to determine their condition and treatraent within their respective territories. And the action of the several States uponthis'Bubject cannot be controlled by Congress, either ly virtue of its power to regúlate commerce, or by virtue of any other power conferred by the constitution of the United States.1' Soon after the decisión was made, an ar ticle oppeared as editorial in the Washington Globe, (but in its temper too courteous and in hs statements too lucid and professional to have been written by the editor,) in which it wassaid that in regar( to the power of Congress to regúlate or prohibit tíie trade in slavcs from State to State, "The Court decided, first, and unani mously, that Congress possessed no such power, and all the Court decided, wiih greal unanimity, that the States did possess this power, except Judge Buldwin whose opinión was that neither Congress nor the States, acknowledging Blaves af property, possessed any such power. Al the abolitionists, then, who resper.f the unaniraous opinión of the Supremo Court will abandon so much of their petitions as cali on Congress to regúlate or prohibit the transportaron of sla ves from State to State One point of the abolition controvorsy, nm that the most important, is thus eolenmly settled in favor of the South." We forebore to nolice the article at the time, because we wished to be sure of pre senting the exact decisión of the Court.- The result shows that the writer in the Globe has not done full justice to the case In the first place, the decisión on thi point was not given "first,11 but the case between the parties was first decided am disposed of entirely on other grounds,am then the expression of opinión on this point was volunteered, because the question was so momentous and delicate. ín the next place it was not etrictly in adjudication at all, of a case before the court although having been given after eolemn argument, as the actual opinión of the Judges, it is not very likely that any body will carry a case before that court with a hope of reversing that opinión. Whethe the State courts will feel themselves boun( by this, or will regard il as being virtually extra judicial, we cannot teil. And in the third place, the writer in the Globe, in giving the decisión of the Supremo Cour against the claims of the abolitionists on one point, the power of congress to pohibit the trade, omitted to mention tha the court had decided in favor of the great fundamental principie of the abolitionists, to wit, that the constitution of the Unitec States no where recognizes persons held to labor as being property. We consider this as in effect, a decisión that the ctfnstitution does not rocognize them as slaveBj for their being property is of the vcry essence of slavery.