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The Continental Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 6, June, 1862 Devoted To Literature and National Policy   By:

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VOL. I. JUNE, 1862. No. VI.


There are two sections of the United States, the Free States and the Slave States, who hold views widely different upon the subject of Slavery and the true interpretation of the Constitution in relation to it. The Southern view, for the most part, is:

1. The Constitution recognizes slaves as strictly property, to her bought and sold as merchandise.

2. The Constitution recognizes all the territories as open to slavery as much as to freedom, except in those cases where it has been expressly interdicted by the Federal Government; and it secures the legal right to carry slaves into the territories, and any act of Congress, restricting this right to hold slaves in the territories, is unconstitutional and void.

3. Slavery is a natural institution, and not to be considered as local and municipal.

4. The Constitution is simply a compact or league between sovereign States, and when either party breaks, in the estimation of the other, this contract, it is no longer binding upon the whole, and the party that thinks itself wronged has a right, acting according to its own judgment, to leave the Union.

5. This contract between sovereign States has been broken to such an extent, by long and repeated aggressions upon the South by the North, that the slave States who have seceded from the Union, or who may secede, are not only right in thus doing, but are justified in taking up arms, to prevent the collection of revenue by the Federal Government.

These ideas are universally repudiated in the free States. It is not my purpose to discuss the social or moral relations of slavery, but simply to consider under what circumstances the Constitution originated, and what was the clear intent of those who adopted it as the organic or fundamental law of the country. The last assumption taken by the seceding States grows out of the first four, and therefore it becomes a question of vital interest, what did the framers of the Constitution mean? We must remember that while names remain the same, the things which they represent in time go through a radical change. Slavery is not the same that it was when the Constitution was formed, nor are the original slave States the same. If freedom at the North has made great strides, so also has slavery South. Our country now witnesses a mighty difference in free and slave institutions from what originally was seen. The stand point of slavery and freedom has altogether changed, not from local legislation, but from natural causes, inherent in these two diverse states of society. New interests, new relations, new views of commerce, agriculture, and manufactures now characterize our country. It will not do then to infer, from the existing state of things, what was originally the respective condition of the slaveholding and the free States, or what was in fact the import of that agreement, called the Constitution, which brought about the Federal Union. The framers of the Constitution did not reason so much as to what they should do for posterity as for the generation then living. As fallible men, much as they would wish to legislate wisely for the future, yet their very imperfection of knowledge precluded them from knowing fully what fifty or a hundred years hence would be the development of slavery or freedom. Their actions must have reference to present wants, and consult especially existing conditions of society. While they intended that the Constitution should be the supreme law of the land, yet they wisely put into the hands of the people the power of amending it at any such time as circumstances might make it necessary. The question then at issue between the North and the South is not what the Constitution should read, not what it ought to be, to come up to the supposed interests of the country; but what it does read... Continue reading book >>

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