Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
An Appeal to the Higher Law
By Salmon Portland Chase (18081873)
[Born in Cornish, N. H., 1808. Died in New York, N. Y., 1873. Address of the Southern and Western Liberty Convention, Cincinnati, 11 and 12 June, 1845.]
WE would appeal, also, to slaveholders themselves. We would enter at once within the lines of selfish ideas and mercenary motives, and appeal to your consciences and your hearts. You know that the system of slaveholding is wrong. Whatever theologians may teach and cite Scripture for, you knowall of you who claim freedom for yourselves and your children as a birthright precious beyond all price, and inalienable as lifethat no person can rightfully hold another as a slave. Your courts, in their judicial decisions, and your books of common law in their elementary lessons, rise far above the precepts of most of your religious teachers, and declare all slaveholding to be against natural right. You feel it to be so. God has so made the human heart, that, in spite of all theological sophistry and pretended Scripture proofs, you cannot help feeling it to be so. There is a law of sublimer origin and more awful sanction than any human code, written, in ineffaceable characters, upon every heart of man, which binds all to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them. And where is there one of all your number who would exchange conditions with the happiest of all your slaves? Produce the man! and until he is produced, let theological apologists for slaveholding keep silence. Most earnestly would we entreat you to listen to the voice of conscience and obey the promptings of humanity. We are not your enemies. We do not pretend to any superior virtue; or that we, being in your circumstances, would be likely to act differently from you. But we are all fellow-citizens of the same great Republic. We feel slaveholding to be a dreadful incubus upon us, dishonoring us in the eyes of foreign nations; nullifying the force of our example of free institutions; holding us back from a glorious career of prosperity and renown; sowing broadcast the seeds of discord, division, disunion: and we are anxious for its extinction. With Jefferson, we tremble for our country, when we remember that God is just and that his justice cannot sleep forever. With Washington, we believe, that there is but one proper and effectual mode by which the extinction of slavery can be accomplished, and that is, by legislative authority; and this, so far as our suffrages will go, shall not be wanting.
We would not invade the Constitution; but we would have the Constitution rightly construed and administered according to its true sense and spirit. We would not dictate the mode in which slavery shall be attacked in particular States; but we would have it removed at once from all places under the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Government, and also have immediate measures taken, in accordance with constitutional rights and the principles of justice, for its removal from each State by State authority. In this work we ask your coöperation. Shall we ask in vain? Are you not convinced that the almost absolute monopoly of the offices and patronage of the Government, and the almost exclusive control of its legislative and executive and judicial administration, by slaveholders, and for the purposes of slavery, is unjust to the non-slaveholders of the country? Can you blame us for saying that we will no longer sanction it? Are you not satisfied, to use the language of one of your own number, that slavery is a cancer, a slow consuming cancer, a withering pestilence, an unmitigated curse? And can you wonder that we should be anxious, by all just and honorable and constitutional means, to effect its extinction in our respective States, and to confine it to its constitutional limits? Are you not fully aware that the gross inconsistency of slaveholding with our professed principles astonishes the world, and makes the name of our country a mock, and the name of liberty a by-word? And can you regret that we should exert ourselves to the utmost to redeem our glorious land and her institutions from just reproach, and, by illustrious acts of mercy and justice, place ourselves once more in the van of Human Progress and Advancement?
Finally, we ask all true friends of liberty, of impartial, universal liberty, to be firm and steadfast. The little handful of voters who, in 1840, wearied of compromising expediency and despairing of anti-slavery action by pro-slavery parties, raised anew the standard of the Declaration, and manfully resolved to vote right then and vote for freedom, has already swelled to a GREAT PARTY, strong enough, numerically, to decide the issue of any national contest, and stronger far in the power of its pure and elevating principles. And if these principles be sound, which we doubt not, and if the question of slavery be, as we verily believe it is, the GREAT QUESTION of our day and nation, it is a libel upon the intelligence, the patriotism, and the virtue of the American people to say that there is no hope that a majority will not array themselves under our banner. Let it not be said that we are factious or impracticable. We adhere to our views because we believe them to be sound, practicable, and vitally important. We have already said that we are ready to prove our devotion to our principles by coöperation with either of the other two great American Parties which will openly and honestly, in State and National Conventions, avow our doctrines and adopt our measures, until slavery shall be overthrown. We do not, indeed, expect any such adoption and avowal by either of those parties, because we are well aware that they fear more, at present, from the loss of slaveholding support than from the loss of anti-slavery coöperation. But we can be satisfied with nothing less, for we will compromise no longer, and therefore must of necessity maintain our separate organization, as the true Democratic Party of the country, and trust our cause to the patronage of the people and the blessing of God!
Carry then, friends of freedom and free labor, your principles to the ballot box. Let no difficulties discourage, no dangers daunt, no delays dishearten you. Your solemn vow that slavery must perish is registered in heaven. Renew that vow! Think of the martyrs of truth and freedom; think of the millions of the enslaved; think of the other millions of the oppressed and degraded free; and renew that vow! Be not tempted from the path of political duty. Vote for no man, act with no party politically connected with the supporters of slavery. Vote for no man, act with no party unwilling to adopt and carry out the principles which we have set forth in this address. To compromise for any partial or temporary advantage is ruin to our cause. To act with any party, or to vote for the candidates of any party, which recognizes the friends and supporters of slavery as members in full standing, because in particular places or under particular circumstances it may make large professions of anti-slavery zeal, is to commit political suicide. Unswerving fidelity to our principles; unalterable determination to carry those principles to the ballot-box at every election; inflexible and unanimous support of those, and only those, who are true to those principles, are the conditions of our ultimate triumph. Let these conditions be fulfilled, and our triumph is certain. The indications of its coming multiply on every hand. The clarion trump of freedom breaks already the gloomy silence of slavery in Kentucky, and its echoes are heard throughout the land. A spirit of inquiry and of action is awakened everywhere. The assemblage of the convention whose voice we utter is itself an auspicious omen. Gathered from the North and the South, and the East and West, we here unite our counsels and consolidate our action. We are resolved to go forward knowing that our cause is just, trusting in God. We ask you to go forward with us, invoking His blessing who sent His Son to redeem mankind. With Him are the issues of all events. He can and He will disappoint all the devices of oppression. He can, and we trust He will, make our instrumentality efficient for the redemption of our land from slavery, and for the fulfilment of our fathers pledge in behalf of freedom, before Him and before the world.