Obrazy na stronie

representative, the right to disregard such assumed authority, and as a citizen and a man, to appeal from such decision to that final arbiter, the public opinion of the country.

With Jefferson, I deny that the supreme court is the final arbiter on all questions of political power, and assert that the final arbiter on all such questions is the people that people which ordained the constitution. While I would condemn armed resistance to any decision of the supreme court, or to the execution of any statute of the United States, I would claim for myself, in common with all my fellow citizens, the right to question their propriety, to denounce their injustice, and to insist that whatever is wrong therein shall be corrected. This is one of the powers reserved to the people.” While the people should habitually revere the judiciary as the ministers of justice, they should not forget that the judge is fallible, and sometimes stains his ermine with that darkest of all crimes that ever blackened the sunny page of human life -- the crime of judicial murder! That people which are jealous of all delegated power, whether judicial, legislative, or executive, and ready to avenge the wanton and oppressive abuse of it, are most likely to maintain their liberties.

England had her judicial monster, Jeffreys, who could hang his court in scarlet, fit emblem of cruelty and injustice; who could condemn, without a hearing, innocent men and women to a speedy and violent death, mocking at their fear and laughing at their calamity. That was a just retribution which overtook him when he was made to skulk and hide from the wrath of an outraged people; to disfigure his face and disguise his person in filthy apparel, in hope to elude their stern, searching gaze. Vain hope! no disguise could hide the features of that terrible face, which had glared upon

the people from the high places of power with a ferocity that filled them with horror. He who had been chief justice of the king's bench, and lord high chancellor of England; who could boast a judicial massacre of three hundred and twenty victims; this man, unapproached in infamy, in order to be saved from the fury of the people, was trundled by the train-bands through the streets of London, pallid with fear and begrimed with dust, at his own request was committed to the Tower; and accepted with thankfulness the protection of those dark walls, made famous by so many crimes and sorrows, there to remain, amid gloom and solitude, friendless and alone, until remorse should gnaw away his heartstrings, and send him to his last account. With such an example before us, we, the lineal descendants of those who witnessed and avenged Jeffreys's judicial crimes, are not to be told that the judiciary are, at pleasure, and by the assumption of power, to bind the conscience and dispose of the liberties and lives of the people!

But, sir, the President respects the decisions of the supreme court only when it suits his purpose, and accords with the interests of slavery and the demands of the sectional slave party. In this message, in which the President claims that the supreme court has finally settled the vested right of property in slaves beyond the power of Congress or a Territorial legislature, or any human authority, to affect it, he tells us that the Spanish claimants in the “ Amistad case clearly entitled to compensation under the Spanish treaty of 1795, and recommends that an appropriation be made for that purpose out of the national treasury.

What is this “Amistad” case? Who are these Spanish claimants? On the 28th day of June, 1839, a Spanish schooner, named “ Amistad,” sailed from the port of Havana,


in Cuba, bound to Puerto Principe, in the saine island, having on board Captain Ferrer, and two Spanish gentlemen named Ruiz and Montez; also fifty-three Africans, claimed and held by these Spaniards as their slaves. These fifty-three persons were natives of Africa, speaking an African dialect. Ignorant and uninstructed as they were, they had the natural love of liberty, and the natural affections of humanity for home and kindred, sweet visions of which soothed their troubled rest amid the horrors of that second death, the Middle Passage.

The felon-ship, with its cargo of human souls, moved out, like a thing of life, over the calm, blue waters of that western sea, on which was seen, sinking beneath its waves, the lifeless body of one of those captive children of sorrow. The felonship floats on. The day is gone; the mists of night gather, “low and cold, like the shadow of death, upon the doomed and guilty vessel, as it labors in darkness amid the lightnings of the sea, its thin masts written upon the sky in lines of blood, and girded with condemnation.” The uplifted arm of one of those sons of wrong and oppression, made strong by the mighty arm of the God of the oppressed, comes down in terrible retribution upon the master at the helm, and he falls a lifeless corpse upon the deck. His body is consigned, with that of his captive who had gone before, to the same silent burial in the deep waters, there to rest until the sea gives up its dead!

On the 27th of August, 1839, the United States brig “Washington” captured the vessel and crew, off the coast of the United States, and brought her into the port of New London, Connecticut. The officers of the brig filed a libel in the District Court of the United States for the district of Connecticut, against the vessel, cargo, and slaves, for salvage.

On the 29th of August, 1839, Ruiz and Montez filed in that court claims to the negroes as their slaves, and claimed the right to hold them under the treaty of 1795. The United States attorney for the district of Connecticut filed an information, stating that the minister of Spain had claimed of the government of the United States, that the vessel, cargo, and slaves should be restored under the provisions of the treaty of 1795, between Spain and the United States. On the 23d of January, 1840, the district judge made a decree in the case, wherein is recited the decree of the government of Spain, made December, 1817, prohibiting the slave-trade, and declaring all negroes brought into the dominions of Spain by slave-traders free, and enjoining the execution of the decree on all officers of Spain in all her dominions.

The court decided that these Africans were kidnapped, and could not be held or claimed under the treaty of 1795. From this decree the United States, in pursuance of the demand of the Minister of Spain, duly accredited to the United States, appealed to the circuit court of the United States for the district of Connecticut. The circuit court affirmed the decree of the district court in the premises; and from this decree of the circuit court, the United States appealed to the supreme court. At the January term, 1841, of the supreme court of the United States, this great cause came on to be heard upon the claim of Ruiz and Montez to these Africans as their slaves, and the answer of the kidnapped Africans, that they were natives of Africa, born free, and of right ought to be free, and not slaves; that in the land of their nativity they were unlawfully kidnapped, and forcibly, and against their will, and under circumstances of great cruelty, carried to Cuba. Spain, and the “Spanish claimants,” Ruiz and Montez, were ably represented on the trial of the cause

by the attorney-general of the United States, Mr. Gilpin. These Africans, captives in a strange land, awaited with fear the issue, in the prisons of Connecticut. To the honor of our country and of our common humanity, these captives found an advocate in one of the most remarkable men of his time, or any time, now gone, the profound and illustrious John Quincy Adams — that venerable man, who had filled the highest and most responsible trusts of his country, and had conferred honor upon each. After an absence of a third of a century from the presence of that great tribunal, Mr. Adams appeared to plead the cause of the poor, the oppressed, and defenceless. He said:

“I appear to plead the cause of justice, ... of liberty, and life, in behalf of many of my fellow men, before that same court which, in a former age, I had addressed in support of the rights of property.”

Touching was his allusion to the fact, that he stood before the same court, but not before the same judges Marshall and his great associates were gone to join the illustrious dead - stronger than any formal argument was his statement:

This court is a court of justice; and justice demands that the rights of each party should be allowed to himself.”

It was in vain that the treaty of 1795 was set up by the attorney-general as securing to Ruiz and Montez the right to hold these men, women, and children, as their chattels, against their paramount right to themselves, by the law of nature and of nature's God. The court decided the case; and, by their solemn judgment, declared that the kidnapped Africans were free, and should be dismissed from custody, and go hence without day. They did go hence. They went back to their own country, under the protection of our flag, singing their simple songs of thanksgiving to him and

« PoprzedniaDalej »