Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Break the Federal Compact!
By William Leggett (18011839)
[Political Writings. 1840.]
SLAVERY no evil! Has it come to this, that the foulest stigma on our national escutcheon, which no true-hearted freeman could ever contemplate without sorrow in his heart and a blush upon his cheek, has got to be viewed by the people of the South as no stain on the American character? Have their ears become so accustomed to the clank of the poor bondmans fetters that it no longer grates upon them as a discordant sound? Have his groans ceased to speak the language of misery? Has his servile condition lost any of its degradation? Can the husbaud be torn from his wife, and the child from its parent, and sold like cattle at the shambles, and yet free, intelligent men, whose own rights are founded on the declaration of the unalienable freedom and equality of all mankind, stand up in the face of heaven and their fellow-men, and assert without a blush that there is no evil in servitude? We could not have believed that the madness of the South had reached so dreadful a climax.
Not only are we told that slavery is no evil, but that it is criminal towards the South, and a violation of the spirit of the federal compact, to indulge even a hope that the chains of the captive may some day or other, no matter how remote the time, be broken. Ultimate abolitionists are not less enemies of the South, we are told, than those who seek to accomplish immediate franchisement. Nay, the threat is held up to us, that unless we speedily pass laws to prohibit all expression of opinion on the dreadful topic of slavery, the Southern states will meet in convention, separate themselves from the North, and establish a separate empire for themselves. The next claim we shall hear from the arrogant South will be a call upon us to pass edicts forbidding men to think on the subject of slavery, on the ground that even meditation on that topic is interdicted by the spirit of the federal compact.
What a mysterious thing this federal compact must be, which enjoins so much by its spirit that is wholly omitted in its languagenay, not only omitted, but which is directly contrary to some of its express provisions! And they who framed that compact, how sadly ignorant they must have been of the import of the instrument they were giving to the world! They did not hesitate to speak of slavery, not only as an evil, but as the direst curse inflicted upon our country. They did not refrain from indulging a hope that the stain might one day or other be wiped out, and the poor bondman restored to the condition of equal freedom for which God and nature designed him. But the sentiments which Jefferson, and Madison, and Patrick Henry freely expressed are treasonable now, according to the new reading of the federal compact. To deplore the doom which binds three millions of human beings in chains, and to hope that by some just and gradual measures of philanthropy, their fetters, one by one, may be unlocked from their galled limbs, till at last, through all our borders, no bondmans groan shall mix with the voices of the free, and form a horrid discord in their rejoicings for national freedomto entertain such sentiments is treated as opprobrious wrong done to the South, and we are called upon to lock each others mouths with penal statutes, under the threat that the South will else separate from the confederacy, and resolve itself into a separate empire.
This threat, from iteration, has lost much of its terror. We have not a doubt, that to produce a disrupture of the Union, and join the slave states together in a southern league, has been the darling object, constantly and assiduously pursued for a long time past, of certain bad revolting spirits, who, like the archangel ruined, think that to reign is worth ambition, though in hell. For this purpose all the arts and intrigues of Calhoun and his followers and myrmidons have been zealously and indefatigably exerted. For the achievement of this object various leading prints have long toiled without intermission, seeking to exasperate the Southern people by daily efforts of inflammatory eloquence. For the accomplishment of this object they have traduced the North, misrepresented its sentiments, falsified its language, and given a sinister interpretation to every act. For the accomplishment of this object they have stirred up the present excitement on the slave question, and constantly do all in their power to aggravate the feeling of hostility to the North which their hellish arts have engendered. We see the means with which they work, and know the end at which they aim. But we trust their fell designs are not destined to be accomplished.
If, however, the political union of these states is only to be preserved by yielding to the claims set up by the South; if the tie of confederation is of such a kind that the breath of free discussion will inevitably dissolve it; if we can hope to maintain our fraternal connection with our brothers of the South only by dismissing all hope of ultimate freedom to the slave; let the compact be dissolved, rather than submit to such dishonorable, such inhuman terms for its preservation. Dear as the Union is to us, and fervently as we desire that time, while it crumbles the false foundations of other governments, may add stability to that of our happy confederation, yet rather, far rather, would we see it resolve into its original elements to-morrow than that its duration should be effected by any measures so fatal to the principles of freedom as those insisted upon by the South.