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Proceedings and Debates of the 1864 Constitutional Convention
Volume 102, Volume 1, Debates 740   View pdf image (33K)
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740
such results; when we see that it has worked
so badly, why should we be compelled to
perpetuate it? Yet we are told that we shall
not take another system; that although this
system is crushed into fragments, the people
of this State have no right to protect them-
selves by the establishment of any other sys-
tem. Gentlemen have spoke of novel doc-
trines; but I must confess that this is the
most no' el doctrine that I have heard, that
we cannot emancipate. It has been the theory
in Maryland for some years that the master
could not emancipate, that the State con-
trolled the power of emancipation; that the
State could deny to the master the power to
emancipate. How do you reconcile that with
the denial to the State of the power to eman-
cipate? What means the provision of the
Constitution of 1776, that the Legislature
shall not abolish slavery except by unanimous
consent, if the State cannot abolish it at all?
What means the provision in the Constitu-
tion that the Legislature of Maryland shall
not abolish slavery, if it were not in their
power without such a provision in the Con-
stitution to abolish it? What means the pro-
hibition upon the interference by the Legisla-
ture with the relation of master and slave,
if they had not the power to interfere? How
does slavery exist? Was not slavery ratified
by law in 1715 by State authority? And if
that State authority at that time had decided
the other way, slavery would not now exist.
Gentlemen talk about impairing the obli-
gation of contracts. I assert that the Con-
stitution of the United States never meant to
take away from any State the power to con-
trol its own social institutions. Slavery is a
social institution, it is in its very nature a
grant from the State, by which one class of
the people of the State, whether citizens or
merely inhabitants or subjects, are transferred
to the domination of another class of the
population. I assume that the inherent right
of every community to govern its own people,
to regulate the status of its own population,
its control over the people they made masters
and the people they made slaves, is necessarily
above every right of property created by the
State or allowed by the State between these
two classes, its right to legislate about it
cannot be denied. What was decided by the
Court of Appeals in relation to the right of
the city of Baltimore to appoint exclusively
its own police officers, was that the police
power of the State could not beabandoned.
How is it sovereign, if it has no power to
regulate the status of its own people? I
know the Courts of the United States have
gone very far upon this doctrine. Judge
Story particularly has gone to an extent that
has not been sustained either by the Supreme
Court or by the other tribunals of the country.
Judge Story has carried the principle so far
as to take the ground, that the legislative au-
thority could not dissolve the marriage rela-
tion. Yet it has been distinctly decided by
one of the ablest judges; whose opinion was
referred to by the gentleman from Calvert
(Mr. Briscoe) in the last Legislature as sanc-
tioning the absolute right of property, as a
general thing, by Chief Justice Robertson, of
the Court of Appeals in Kentucky, that mar-
riage is absolutely within the control of the
legislative authority, with the consent of both
parties, or without the consent, or against the
consent of both parties; and because it is a
social institution.
In a Government regulated by a Constitu-
tion, I say that the right to regulate the con-
dition of persons under that Constitution,
how far one man may hold dominion over
another man, is an inherent and absolute
right, which the sovereignty exercises with-
out appeal. I do not deny the right to make
a slave property, so far as man can be prop-
erty; but the very fact that be is a man gives
the Legislature control over him. The Legis-
lature may try him and hang him. The
Legislature may exercise any power over him
as a person, no matter how injuriously it
affects the right of property. Any man can
see that if a negro slave is executed for a
crime, it is not a case of taking private
property for public use, while the Legislature
in its discretion can provide compensation, it
is not necessary, because it became property
by their grant and could not have become
property otherwise. It is just because a ne-
gro is a man, because be is a person, that
there cannot be property in him beyond the
power of that sovereign existence which con-
trols him as a man. The right of the State
to the obedience of the negro is above that of
the matter. If the master tells him one thing
and the State another, which must he obey ?
Is not the negro bound as a man to obey the
law of the State, no matter how much prop-
erty his master may have in him? The power
of the State rises above the power of the
master. The position as a man is above the
position as a slave.
So far as regards the question of compen-
sation, I have but a few words to say. I say
that compensation, as a right, does not exist.
It does not exist for the reasons which I have
just urged. There may be certain instances
which justify it, and certain instances which
do not justify it; cases when it is allowable,
and cases when it is wrong. All I can say
upon this subject is, that this is one of the
cases when it is wrong. I say that the cir-
cumstances of these times are such that com-
pensation is not due. I say that the circumstances
of the future are such that com-
pensation will come in another form; and you
cannot strike the balance. This institution
has struck at the vitals of the United States,
and aimed its dagger at its heart; and that
is the cause of the death of that institution.
if it produces inconvenience to individuals, it
is beyond the control of the Legislature, be-


 
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Proceedings and Debates of the 1864 Constitutional Convention
Volume 102, Volume 1, Debates 740   View pdf image (33K)
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